My favourite Decemberists albums are The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife, achingly pretentious but distinct, unique and somewhat interesting. Yes they were somewhat impenetrable concept albums, but they featured a fluidity of genre, and a genuine feeling that this was a band who could throw anything at us. I'm not the biggest Decemberists fan, but I have a real (if not completely substantial) fondness for those albums. The King is Dead, their latest effort, however takes a different route.

It stays in one particular niche, country rock that sounds quite a lot like REM and a bit like Arcade Fire. Thus I was disappointed with it at first; it was far from interesting, appearing pedestrian and somewhat musically unoriginal. Rarely deviating from anything but a very standard line up of instruments, it sounds too much like everything that has come before it, and doesn't really add anything new. Somewhat different to what I was hoping for then.

Disappointment aside, is what Colin Meloy decided to give us any good? Well, it's nice for one thing. The sort of album I would mind playing around my parents, as some sort of middle ground that we could both agree on. But that sort of album is boring right? The only reason it's so generally amicable, is that it has little or no interesting features, or any sort of musical edge. Happy to trundle around in the background, with some nice chords played on an acoustic guitar and choral vocals. It is however not always so, albums may initially appear rudimentary and dull, but have much greater depth lying within that the serious listener can envelop themselves in.

The King Is Dead certainly has an adequate base for such depth to be built upon. Meloy is renowned for writing mystical and obscure lyrics that make boring literary types squeal with delight, and with much of the album remaining in the same pleasant tone, it really needs some well weaved lyrics to spruce it up a bit. Unfortunately the lyrical work throughout the album falls to the same level as the music, adequate. There's a large number of nice little couplets, but no interesting songs that leap out at a listener and stun them into silence. It's all nice stuff, sometimes a little too wordy and pretentious, but it's nowhere near to the level that The Decemberists used to inhabit.

This is a shame I feel, because with their last two albums they entered some kind of ludicrous excess of pretension, which actually ended up being pretty good. The Crane Wife, and the Hazards of Love were nearly the ultimate high concept albums, full of vaulting ambition and a real attempt to create something masterful. While they may not have succeeded fully, there's a charm in the fact they tried. The King is Dead holds no such ambition, it's stuck to the ground happy to trundle along the ground in its boring little country rock template. It's never bad, or difficult to listen to as its predecessors were, but then it's never really good either. It stays at about the same level of quality throughout, and never really ups its game. I have genuinely difficulty remembering one song from another because they are all so unremarkable. Occasionally coming up with nice little musical touches, but ultimately unremarkable. I've listened to the album some eight times, and I've failed to make to the end of a fair number of those attempts simply because it had begun to bore me. Despite this The King is Dead isn't bad, it's just sufficient, adequate, and altogether unremarkable.

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