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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Meloy goes metal with masterful ‘Hazards’

    Writing a rock opera is a risky move in a media industry with an increasingly plummeting attention span; Green Day tried it in ’04 with American Idiot, which was a mess of a narrative but nevertheless produced a handful of powerful singles, and now the ’70s rock trend is revisited by a very unexpected source: The Decemberists.

    In a lot of ways, The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy is the anti-Billie Joe Armstrong; where Armstrong dropped out of high school to pursue his musical passion, Meloy went all the way through with a creative writing degree before settling down with his art; where Armstrong prefers hard-hitting power chords and a loud, punkish style, Meloy often goes for gentler melodies and lyric subtlety; where Armstrong wears a tie onstage to be ironic, Meloy wears one to look snazzy. With this in mind, it is little wonder why the Decemberists’ new rock opera, The Hazards of Love, resounds as the musical opposite of American Idiot, in that it provides an engrossing, theatrical rock’n’roll narrative when taken holistically, but offers few songs capable of standing alone and retaining their power.

    Following the ethereal organ-heavy prelude, Hazards focuses on the heroine Margaret (voiced by Lavender Diamond’s soft-spoken Becky Stark) and her unconventional lover, a forest fawn (voiced by Meloy) who she encountered wounded in the woods. Though they come from different worlds, their love is pure and enviable, which inspires the jealous wrath of the forest queen (a show-stealing performance given by My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden) who “”swore to save (the fawn) from the world of men”” as a child. The queen utilizes her sway over the forest to enable a murderous rogue (also voiced by Meloy) to abduct Margaret, inspiring the love-stricken fawn to brave the “”hazards of love”” as he rushes to save her.

    Admittedly, all the talk of forest beasts and evil queens is an archaic theme for a modern album, but this Led Zeppelin-esque fancifulness is never overdone, and in fact is a great complement to the retro musical style employed throughout the album. Though Hazards sticks with Decemberists signatures of soaring synth organ and dreamy acoustic strumming, Meloy also proves that he has been hiding a metal side from us all these years; songs like “”The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing”” are overflowing with thunderous bass and drum kicks and an uncharacteristic heaviness in Chris Funk’s rip-roaring guitar bends. Whenever the queen is present (indicated by Worden’s throaty moan that is at once malevolent and irresistible), pounding, rhythmic riffs hearken back to the iconic theme of the judge from Pink Floyd’s “”The Wall””, and other such Floydian slips can be heard intermittently throughout the album.

    As usual, Meloy rubs his English degree in our faces with hyper-literate lyrics chock-full of alliteration and inter-rhyming, for example “”wasn’t it a lovely breeze/ that swept the leaves of arbor eaves/ and bent to brush our blushing knees””. Meloy’s traditional lyric style lends itself perfectly to such a theatrical genre, but as a result few songs can stand alone outside Hazards’ overall narrative, and something essential is lost when listening to the songs out of order. Taken as a whole, however, The Hazards of Love is a nonstop musical and lyrical masterpiece, packed with old-school rock roots with a new-school indie flair that only the Decemberists can deliver. You’d have to be an American idiot not to download it.

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