http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/17501a3039e6f0dbcbd97b9688a4489d985d0ab7.jpg The King Is Dead

The Decemberists

The King Is Dead

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 4 0
January 18, 2011

Click to listen to The Decemberists' "Down By the Water"

When a 12-and-a-half-minute murder ballad ("The Island," from 2006's The Crane Wife) stands as one of your more concise career high points, it's probably time to consider reining things in. That's just what the Decemberists — the Portland, Oregon, band known for its complex story-songs about fairy queens and shape-shifting lovers — have done on The King Is Dead. What's remarkable is how much richness and beauty the group has folded into the 40-minute album: The melodies are sticky, the harmonies sumptuous, the arrangements (centering on guitars, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and pedal steel) unfussy. Mastermind Colin Meloy hasn't abandoned his lust for Scrabble-champ words ("gabardine," "plinth") and fantastical narratives. But he's figured out how to work both into compact songs without disturbing the flow.

Gallery: The Decemberists Perform in New York City

Meloy and his band had some help. R.E.M.'s back catalog provided some templates: "Calamity Song" sounds like it was lifted from Murmur, and guitarist Peter Buck does a great Peter Buck impression on three songs. Also crucial is Gillian Welch, whose close harmonies buoy everything. Per usual, Meloy's lyrics are elliptical and ornate, with phrases conjuring the distant past ("a wreath of trillium and ivy") or tweaking the present ("the chewable Ambien tab"). But more than ever, his songs savor straightforward pleasures. On "June Hymn," the album's most gorgeous track, a tremulous Meloy rhymes "bloom," "boom," "maroon" and "living room" over strummed guitar like a crushed-out poetry student. For a band able to push the limits of songwriting, it's a revelation, and a chance to see how deep simplicity goes. Very deep, it turns out.

Gallery: Keep up with rock's hottest photos in Random Notes

Album Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Party Rock Anthem”

    LMFAO | 2011

    This electro-pop uncle-nephew duo burst onto the scene with 2009’s "Shots," a song about getting totally obliterated. Two years afterward, they were still shamelessly getting wild but now insisting that everyone else join them in the fun. "I wanted a song for when we walked into a party, so I thought, 'Party rock in the house tonight/Everybody just have a good time,'" Redfoo (a.k.a. Stefan Gordy, son of Motown founder Berry Gordy) told Rolling Stone about the lyrics to "Party Rock Anthem." "The 'just' was key. I made it a command to focus people on what to do now that we’re here together."

    More Song Stories entries »