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Opening with a parade, ending in a double suicide and climaxing with a murder in the belly of a whale, Picaresque is a triumph of theatrical imagination: the culmination of the Decemberists’ steady march to greatness in four years of enriched storytelling and folk-rock invention. Singer-songwriter Colin Meloy has never been shy about the Morrissey and Melville inside his melodies. But here he turns on his inner Tom Waits and Fairport Convention to spectacular effect in eleven parables of dashed expectations: the heavy labor in “Eli, the Barrow Boy”; the ravaged innocence of the runaway prostitutes in “On the Bus Mall”; the righteous bloodletting at the end of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Combined, they tell a bigger story — of a society convulsed in greed and chaos yet still worth saving — against frenzied walls of strum, strings and cabaret accordion. “We fall, but our souls are flying,” Meloy sings — a perfect description of resurrection.


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