What's challenging about this album is that it doesn't give the listener a chance to catch their breath. Each track weaves carefully into the next. The problem with that is that the songs could might not work taken out of context of the album. How could they perform any of the songs live without doing all of them? This isn't the kind of album you could listen to on shuffle on your iPod.
Then again, maybe that's exactly what Meloy and company wanted. In an age where music is quick and cheap and reduced to snippets on commercials and ringtones, here is an album that demands to be listened to from beginning to end. Granted they're expecting a lot from their listeners, but that's what makes it so daring. It's a ballsy move to be sure.
What is missing on this album is a couple happier, less morose songs. The most cheerful sounding song on the album is about a widower murders his three children. There's no 'Sporting Life' or 'Valencia', it's all dark and dreary. Sure, a happy, flowery song might seem a bit out of place on this album, but it might provide the listener with a much needed aside.
After having the album for a little over two weeks I'm still conflicted on my opinion of it, and the reviewers certainly aren't helping. Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars and called it, "an old–fashioned prog concept record." Entertainment Weekly gave it a D+ and said it, "drowns in convoluted plots, blustery guest vocalists, and comically out-of-place guitar shredding." Pitchfork gave it a 5.7, but they hate everything so that's not too surprising.
I had listened to the ablum about a dozen times I and I still couldn't decide if I liked it or if I thought it was too heavy. So today I decided to sit down and listen to the album in its entirey with the lyrics book handy for the intended effect.
After having listened more carefully and read along with the lyrics it is safe to say that this albums fits in nicely with the Decemberists library. While it might require a bit more effort to enjoy, it is definitely an achivement. It's not going to be your favorite Decemberists album to be sure, but it might go down as the most impressive. B