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The Decemberists, Picaresque (Album Review)

Here’s my beef with the Decemberists. My peeps say “If you like Neutral Milk Hotel, you’ll love the Decemberists.” Guess what? The Decemberists sound nothing like NMH. Jeff Mangum and Colin Meloy were not separated at birth. And Picareque, their follow up album to the lauded Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty the Decemberists isn’t linked to On Avery Island. No matter. That issue is not germane to the story at hand. Picaresque has originality in the plus column. Obviously the folks who created this album are erudite and witty. The band members are all musically accomplished and sound tight and clean. But…the songs on Picaresque attempt to weave a grand sonic tapestry and maybe I just don’t get the story. Each song has its own theme – and the lyrics are catchy, definitely intelligent and crafted. Problem is – and no doubt I will catch hell from all those fans out there– that I just don’t like them. The first two songs/stories “The Infanta” and “We Both Go Down Together” seem contrived and pretentious with lyrics woven from bad historical literature and sappy 70’s love songs. Perhaps I’m just biased against the vocals as there is a grating quality to Colin’s voice at times although it does lend a dirty texture to the songs. “The Sporting Life” tends towards a flat out rip off of Iggy’s “Lust for Life” rhythms and Belle and Sebastian’s “Stars of Track and Field” ethos. Very catchy, but hasn’t it already been done? The rest of the album returns back to the beginning with songs that may (or may not) fit into a larger whole while encapsulating mini-narratives of their own. Maybe I’m just being harsh. I wanted to like this album. There are many out there who will like this album, especially those who haunt libraries and art schools. Perhaps I’m just over castles, princesses, waifs, ragamuffins, sailors and the like. If you aren’t…go see the Decemberists live. I’m guessing they are great showmen and women who will give you your money’s worth. Then, if you like what you hear, go buy the album. At least you’ll know what you are getting into. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get drunk, slap on a sailor suit, hop on a palanquin and join the masses who think the Decemberists are the next big thing. (Review by: Erica Goldsmith)