Tag Archives: The Decemberists

The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love” Revisited

One of the most popular posts on my blog – and by far the most commented, is “The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation.” Even though it was written and published in March of 2009, it continues to receive comments and pageviews. This week, I was listening to the album again and I spotted something I’d never realized before. I found a theme I’d previously missed.

The story “The Hazards of Love” is a complete saga with well rounded characters with clear motivation. It exists in two acts. There are several layers of potential analysis, from character depth to allusion. “The Hazards of Love” itself is the title of four distinct un-thematically related songs on the disc. It bothered me only for a moment that Colin and company would reuse the song title so often for no clear purpose, but alas, this weekend, I finally found the connection.

The four songs entitled “The Hazards of Love” all describe a different “hazard” of love!

The first song, “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)” represents lust. It’s Lust that drive William and Margaret together, that keeps her riding out past Offa’s Wall to meet him, and ultimately leads to her bearing his fruit. Perhaps a little uptight to view lust as a “hazard”? In the age of The Situation and Snooki, sure. In the age of William and Margaret? Sin!

“The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)” represents jealousy. Bear with me: I know the Queen doesn’t discover William and Margaret’s affair in this song, but it’s during this episode that she will catch them. The hazard, in this case, is that others will be unable to handle the love. Ultimately, the Queen wants to keep William for herself, and this is the moment she will witness to cement that emotion.

“The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” represents… wait for it… vengeance, of course. Look at relationships: so quickly they can turn from love to hate. Use whatever cliché you want about the thin line between love and hate, but ultimately, many broken relationship land in hate. Not just hate, but the need to hurt and take revenge. What do The Rake’s children actually do here? Do they terrorize their father? Do they naïvely believe they are returning for his love? Do they kill him? Either way, they get their revenge by depriving him of Margaret.

Lastly, we have the heart-wrenching “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”. It’s easy to categorize this one: loss. It’s maybe as simple as just the loss of a single moment, hour, or day with someone when you are in love, but in this case, it’s illustrated in the extreme: William has promised his earthly bones to Annan Water, and Margaret tragically sacrifices herself – and possibly her baby – to be with William for eternity. Of course, the eagle-eyed December-head will know that the baby is probably doomed destined to be rescued by the Queen from the reedy glen, but Margaret, any way you slice it, meets her end. Love’s power is too great, and she is unable to live without her “true love” William.

You could probably write 20 short analyses of “The Hazards of Love” without duplicating content. I like to think that Colin Meloy and crew put some serious thought into this story and loaded it with Easter Eggs that are neither confirmed nor denied so as to leave the story up for interpretation. During “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)”, I nearly bust out of my seat picturing William swashbuckling through the jungle on the dark side of Annan Water to save our heroine from The Rake. I LOVE the story and the music. So, while I don’t necessarily think that it was the intent to illustrate four different literal “hazards of love,” I think it’s both fascinating and incredible that it’s possible to construct and support the theory at all.

Concert Review: The Decemberists 09/30/09

On Wednesday night, Jenn and I went with an old college friend of mine to see The Decemberists, who are touring in support of their “Hazards of Love” album. As expected, the concert did not disappoint.

The first set, as it has been nearly the entire tour, was the Hazards of Love rock opera, in its entirety, in order, without pause. Although I’ve listened to this album through many (what is sure to be over 100) times by now, it certainly tiring in the best possible way for even an audience member to watch it straight through. The music is fantastic, but watching them recreate virtually every note, watching them very intentionally work towards preserving the flawless segues by wearing electric guitars through acoustic songs, it was just awesome.

The Decemberists Setlist Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL, USA 2009, A Short Fazed Hovel Tour

With no idle chatter, no classic Decemberists raucous through the first set, the second set was decidedly different. With a fun set that featured long and playful sing-alongs, humorous anecdotes, crowd surfing, cartwheels, and even a brief tease of “Simple Gifts,” even the less hardcore fans peppered throughout the crowd could be spotted bopping their heads, laughing, singing, and having a good time. Featuring the first performance of “Everything I Try to Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right” since 2002 and the debut of a song “about Florida”, the set ranged from just plain fun – Meloy handed his guitar to someone in the audience to play – to display of raw talent – Shara Worden and Becky Stark admirably channeling Ann Wilson and crushing Heart’s “Crazy on You” like only a few on this planet could. It was total enjoyment.

The Decemberists are bold in their presentation and put on a show that is incredibly compelling. Some call them – and their performance – arrogant and exclusive. I prefer to think of the Decemberists like a fine wine: it’s challenging, it’s enjoyable, each year is significantly different, and it’s ultimately incredibly satisfying.

The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation

The new Decemberists album was loosed last Tuesday, March 24, and has been met with enthusiasm almost universally.  I purchase only a few discs a year these days, preferring to spend the majority of my music dollars online.  This disc, I knew in advance, would be one of my purchases.

Upon purchase, I quickly came to understand that “The Hazards of Love” is a concept album in the truest sense: the songs are a single, uninterrupted blob – continuous sound from the haunting opening notes of “Prelude” to the final waves of “The Hazards of Love, Part 4.”  The challenge, as with any Decemberists offering, is to decipher the meaning of the often Victorian-style lyrics, and with “The Hazards of Love,” it’s proven to be a challenge.  However, within, find my interpretation of the Hazards of Love story.

Before I get into it, let me address a few complaints I have with this album:

  1. The CD liner smells like a camel pen
  2. The font in the liner booklet is far too small, doubling the challenge
  3. That’s it

I have no other complaints about this disc at all.  In fact, I’ve read only two complaints online, the first being that the talented Jenny Conlee is underused.  To those who have noted that, I urge you to relisten.  Her harpsichord, the Hammond, and her accordion can be heard throughout the album, and while she certainly takes a backseat on some songs, she provides depth to many of the themes that might otherwise deliver much less forcefully their message.

To those  who felt this album is too “heavy metal” and too far a departure from previous Decemberists material, I ask you to relisten paying greater attention to the story.  There is no unnecessary “metal” here.  There is only emotion to properly align to the lyrics.  The queen is accompanied by loud electric guitar.

So, let’s get on with it, shall we? Please read on, I’ll include my entire dissection of “The Hazards of Love.”

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eMusic Earned My $9.99

I have searched the internet high and low, but I could not locate a DRM free Bob Weir’s “Ace” album for download on the internet. The only place I could find it was from eMusic.com. eMusic offers an amazing deal – sign up, you get 25 free MP3s. Then you go onto a subscription plan, $9.99 per month for 30 songs to more expensive plans that offer more downloads.

So I signed up for my two week trial with the intention of downloading a few of the Wier songs and then cancelling. But I still had about 20 downloads left. So I downloaded the entire EP “The Tain,” by the Decemberists, but instead of the five parts being individual songs, the entire EP is offered as one 18 minute song. So I downloaded some other random songs. While the selection is far from limitless, it’s certainly very deep and incredibly varied.

So, 24 songs later, despite my intention to rip off eMusic, I decided that they have earned my $9.99. The downloads go through the eMusic manager, which is really fast and really easy to use, and it’s cross platform. Also, did I mention the downloads are non-DRM, fully-portable, already-tagged MP3 files?

It’s easy to use services like mp3sparks and the like to get songs for cheap, but I don’t mind supporting my favorite artists when the price is right and I get to own a copy of the music that doesn’t impose random limits on me.

So, eMusic earned my $9.99 for what will eventually be 55 songs; I firmly believe that $9.99 for 30 songs is a reasonable price. So, if you’re so inclined, I encourage you to support eMusic. They are approaching things in a way that is actually right for the consumer.