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Peculiar popsters

The Decemberists

The Decemberists - Her Majesty
(Kill Rock Stars)
4 (out of 5 stars)

Reviewed: Jan. 13, 2004

Review by Tony Bonyata

Finally, a new form of rock that would make Bertolt Brecht proud. Not that many of you have actually been waiting for The Decemberists' dark, well-told tales of pirates, chimney sweeps, bowery toughs and WWI soldiers stuck in trenches. But here it is anyway - the second full-length album from this unique Portland, Oregon-based band entitled Her Majesty. And these superbly acted out concise pop songs, spiced with upright piano, accordion, glockenspiel and washed down with a glass full of Dickens mirth, couldn't be more welcome.
Led primarily by singer / songwriter / guitarist Colin Meloy, The Decemberists are a group of musicians not easily boxed into any pre-conceived corners. Despite an eccentric, theatrical approach to their arrangements, Meloy and his core bandmembers, Chris Funk (guitars), Jesse Emerson (bass), Jenny Conlee (keys) and Rachel Blumberg (drums), avoid the trappings of a novelty act primarily through their keen sense of melody and Meloy's pointed narratives.
From the flowing melody that chases the pounding beat like a child grasping for a fleeting balloon on "Song For Myla Goldberg" to the poetic romanticism of the old world colliding with the new on "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" to the bright Britpop of "Billy Liar" and "The Gymnast, High Above The Ground" Meloy keep's his music within a safe framework of pop rock. But as also proved - when prodded to walk the plank into a sea of uncertainty - he comes up with some irresistible numbers, such as "The Chimbley Sweep" and "Shanty for the Arethusa" that reek of dark rum, moldy wood, wet leather and soot.
"I was meant for the stage, of this much I am certain," Meloy admittedly coos near the album's end, and with all of the thespian bravado of a West End actor with a pocketful of Berlin decadence stuffed in his waistcoat, he and his peculiar popsters, The Decemberists, make us just as certain.

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