After a four year hiatus from their last album, “The King Is Dead,” The Decemberists come storming back into the music scene with exceptional results. The seventh album in the band’s career is packed with fantastic surprises that come in the form of strong melodies and passionate lyrics.
While lacking in some fundamentals from their older albums that molded their iconic and varied sound, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” is a good blend of both indie and folk with a little twist only The Decemberists can provide.
Colin Meloy and his merry band of misfits have included many elements of pop and funk into this record, throwing a wrench into the formula that might turn away musical purists, but will certainly entertain nonetheless. Such is with the single, “Philomena,” a funky love ballad that exhumes a 50s doo-wop feel, reminiscent of “Earth Angel” by The Penguins. (Who could forget Marty McFly playing this song in “Back to the Future”?)
“Make You Better” proves to be the most radio-friendly song off the album, experimenting more with their indie sound while keeping intact Meloy’s passionate, loving lyrics, resulting in phenomenal results. Notable in this piece is the lyrics, which showcase Meloy’s profound songwriting capabilities: “But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore / Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters / And won’t it all just come around and make you.”
The album’s primary focus, as in most of their work, is love, which eventually runs itself thin through the course of the album without interfering with the craft of the musicianship.
Above all, The Decemberists did something greater than writing deep and powerful lyrics. They were able to go back to their musical roots while progressively evolving and adapting their sound, something that has not been achieved since 2006 with “The Crane Wife.”
Evident of this fact is the song “Cavalry Captain,” which explodes with audible bliss that is often reminiscent of R.E.M. with funky grooves and one of the best rhythms in recent memory. One can also look to “Anti-Summersong,” which embraces their folk roots and delivers a powerful Dylan-esque ensemble.
If you are looking for something new to listen to that has an old school charm to it, look no further than “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.”