The last time the Decemberists released an album worth listening to was over four years ago, 2006's charming The Crane Wife. Which is why streaming the Portland folk-rockers country-drenched and R.E.M.-influenced new album, The King Is Dead, over at NPR is worth a couple clicks of the mouse.
It's understandable to be skeptical. Frontman Colin Meloy took his act to new levels of insufferability on 2009's The Hazards of Love, presumably expecting fans to invest time in a disastrous 17-part, hour-long rock opera involving fairies, forests, and fortresses that was heavy on plot and completely empty on good songs.
But everyone loves a redemption story. And on The King Is Dead, the Decemberists are starting to get back to what they do best: making quality pop songs.Staying simple this time around, Meloy drops smoky honky-tonk numbers such as "Rox in the Box" and "All Arise!" that grab hold immediately. And if you take away Meloy's voice on "Don't Carry It All," "Calamity Song," and the lead single "Down by the Water," guest guitarist Peter Buck has all but transformed the songs into R.E.M. singles reminiscent of the band's early breakthrough successes like "The One I Love."
There are still traces of Meloy's divisive, whiny voice, like on the unnecessary closer "Dear Avery." But there are enough up-tempo stompers and rootsy hooks to make sampling The King Is Dead worth your time. Considering it's free on NPR until the album hits download services and store shelves on Jan. 18, it's also worth the money.
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