If thou art one of those gentle folk heard to charge to all and sundry, "Prithee, but doth no one alive maketh the kind of album that one can listen to all in one sitting?" imagine thy surprise when thou finally receivest such an unexpected gift, replete with 17 chamber songs stitched together for continuous play (like the Moody Blues, those progressive bards of yore, used to perpetrate annually — except without the poems to serve as speed bumps). But just as quickly, thou realizest, "Duh! Me not listen to big records like this no more. Me feel stupid, not worthy!"
But if iPod culture has changed how we digest music nowadays, maybe the best way to digest such a weighty opus as this is to sample a track a day off The Hazards of Love, much like it really was some kind of Ye Olde English miniseries.
While English folk music might be the jumping-off point for this Portland, Ore., band, there are enough prog rock touchstones here to keep things from getting too airy-fairy for their own good, particularly when Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden take over lead vocals and sound like Ann Wilson loosening her girdle. And there are enough harpsichord and lutes to make you think you time-traveled back to Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood. But then there are also enough period-insensitive instruments — from analog synth Moogs to pedal-steel — to puncture the precious attention to detail shown throughout. Kind of like spotting those wrist watches on all the extras in Ben-Hur.
What ultimately saves singer-songwriter Colin Meloy from losing the audience in a hedgemaze of his own goofy Victorian pretensions, though, is the fact that this album actually rocks as often as it folks. And in 2009, any album that leaves you unsure if you should mosh or curtsy to it is an identity crisis worth having.
The Decemberists play Tuesday, Aug. 11, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-3980. With Heartless Bastards.
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].