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Friday, March 27, 2009

decemberists11

I was going to subtitle this post “And the Fall of Two Once Great Bands, One Into Merely Something Different But Still Good, The Other Into Something Plain Bad . . . and Then Another Band Who Just Keeps Doing What They Do Best.” But that was obviously too long.

So I didn’t.

And yeah, I know, I’m not Pitchfork or whatever, but for what it’s worth, here’s my worth.

metricMetric — Fantasies

Opens with the line “. . . they’re gonna eat me alive if I stumble.”  Well, stumble you have, and eat you I will, Emily.

This album is awful, no two ways about it; in fact, that opening almost sounds like a plaintive plea to go easy on them when reviewing it, them knowing it’s so bad.  I don’t know what happened to this band.  Old World Underground . . . is still amazing, but Live It Out was merely pedestrian, and now this.  It’s sad, really.

What’s even worse is that it kind of tricks you; it sounds like it’s going to be okay when it starts out with Help I’m Alive . . .

. . . which is initially catchy, but then you listen to it a couple more times you realize, it’s not catchy, it’s just annoyingly repetitive, and only bearably passable; and then comes Sick Muse with its main line “Everybody just wanna fall in love,” and you’re thinking ‘oh my, we’re really in for it now, aren’t we?’

Oh yes, we are.  Would you believe there’s a song that is actually based around the question “Who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?”  And they actually called it Gimme Sympathy (as in Gimme Shelter and Sympathy for the Devil).  And the video has them . . . changing spots in their stage set-up!  Like wow!

I shit you not:

And then they released it as a single! Okay, don’t know if I can get away with any more !s. This may be some sort of ‘clever’ homage to the bands, but even if some people think it is, I don’t care.  I think it’s blech.

The rest of the album is unflinchingly similar.  As you can tell from my tone, I find all of this incredibly boring, unoriginal, tried and tired, both musically and lyrically.  Not to mention visually.  They’ve been accused of getting by on Emily Haines’s looks before — now they actually are (as the above video makes very clear).

There are only four half-decent songs on the whole album: Help I’m Alive, Twilight Galaxy (although she actually says “I’m higher than high, lower than deep” — man oh man), Collect Call and Front Row.  The rest are instantly forgettable.

Such a shame, as Metric used to be seen as being at the forefront of some new musical . . . something.  But, as Emily says in Front Row — ‘Burned out stars they shine so bright.’  It really does seem like they already know it and are just playing along for the money or something.

yyyYeah Yeah Yeahs — It’s Blitz!

Sorry, had to use another ! there because this time it’s in the title.

The Yeahs’ third album, it’s quite different from their first — the kick-ass rocker, and one of my favourites, Fever To Tell; I haven’t actually heard their second, Show Your Bones, because when I previewed it sounded slow and boring and I didn’t want it, but they went back to rocking after that with the EP Is Is, so I was hoping for some more rock with this one.

Well, we don’t get that.  What we do get is another 80s electro-pop throwback along the current trend of such albums, but one that’s surprisingly weighty.  I’m not sure exactly what it is that’s making it weighty, but it has that sort of feel to it.  Although you wouldn’t know that from the first song, Zero.  It’s just fun fun fun and poppy in an 80s fun fun fun and poppy way, reminding me of some other artist I can’t quite put my finger on.  Is it After the Fire?  Or the one of the many girl bands of that decade?  Probably more AtF.  You decide:

So then, you ask, where’s the weighty?  Almost immediately after.  Soft Shock is sexy and sad, with what I perceive as Peter Gabriel-esque echoes in the background; and then comes the beautiful Skeletons, which sounds like a cross between Vangelis and Hans Zimmer (believe it or not), which of course means only thing: epic and haunting.  It ends with the soft double-punch of Hysteric, a great slow rocker which harkens back to their first big hit Maps, and  Little Shadow, which sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell.  But there’s some more dancey stuff tucked in there as well.

So, yeah, not exactly what you might expect from a YYY album, but really good . . . and it’s growing on me more and more each time I listen to it.

hazardsThe Decemberists — The Hazards of Love

The D’s just keep doing what they do best.  After last autumn’s great little EP Always The Bridesmaid, they follow up with their first true total concept album.

What’s that concept?  Umm . . .

The Hazards Of Love tells the tale of a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, William; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-tingling ease how he came ‘to be living so easy and free’ . . .

Any questions?

One you might have is — do they pull it off?  Yes . . . ish.

It opens in a nice operatic fashion with Prelude, which flows directly into part one of the four-part title-track, introducing us to some of the characters and the main theme of the album, which, you might be surprised to learn, is to be wary of the ‘hazards of love.’

From there we move through different set pieces — ruminations in a bower, a trip to the taiga, the abduction and captivity of the main character.  Also interesting, also in operatic — or symphonic, if you prefer — tradition, is that it has a few musical themes which get repeated throughout the album.  What we first hear in A Bower Scene gets returned to in The Abduction of Margaret; The Hazards of Love Pt. I is re-done in Margaret in Captivity etc.  Something like this obviously helps to add dramatic weight and impetus to the whole endeavour, but it’s actually more blues-rocky in places than you might expect, given the concept, and I’m still a bit unsure how I feel about that in terms of its relation to the subject matter and what I’ve come to expect from a Decemberists album; but they’ve rocked out before with good effect, so I guess this might just be a matter of getting more familiar with it.

One thing’s for sure — it’s definitely different than their previous stuff.  Some fans might actually be turned off, but I’m willing to follow them in this direction for now.  But I still would love their next album to be more like their last three.

I’m done, but if you want to read some much better reviews, you can still go to Pitchfork and find them.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. tgjkennedy permalink
    Saturday, March 28, 2009 5:44 pm

    I actually really love Show Your Bones… it’s a lot of slow songs, with Karen O trying to sing rather than scream. She sort of gets away with it… I like it when the lead singer isn’t the greatest singer in the world, but his/her voice has something more interesting going on than just talent.

    I’m disappointed in Metric. I still listen to Old World Underground now and then, and there are so many great songs on it. I guess it was just a fluke.

    • James17930 permalink
      Monday, March 30, 2009 11:36 am

      I’ve been thinking about it since I wrote this, and I realize, Fantasies is no better or worse than Live It Out, which made me realize that while Old World Underground is better musically, than those two, lyrically it’s still pretty empty and hollow, which further made me realize . . .

      Metric is the Beyonce/Backstreet Boys/Mariah Carey of the Alt Rock world. They are the sonic candy for the hipster crowd. Fun music to listen to but completely devoid of any sort of import (and even when Emily does try to get important I find her pretty prissy and sanctimonious).

      So, yeah, I can listen to these albums and enjoy them, but we’ve all got to take a step back and realize they were never as great or significant as everyone thought they were. They were always pretty trite — it’s only now that I can see it.

      But make sure you get It’s Blitz! It’s good.

  2. Monday, May 25, 2009 11:10 pm

    Here’s a really good explanation of the story in Hazards of Love:

    http://firsttube.com/read/the-decemberists-the-hazards-of-love/

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