“The Hazards of Love” The Decemberists album review by Peter Cho

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

“The Hazards of Love” is The Decemberists’ latest 17-track foray into folk rock storytelling. “Hazards” is their fifth album and it attempts to break traditional barriers of music and plays more like a continuous fairy tale rather than a collection of songs. I would recommend listening to it in one sitting before passing judgment. (Although it is a bit taxing to sit and listen to the album straight for 58 minutes and 36 seconds.)

The album revolves around a cast of characters who live near a forest, including a woman named Margaret and her lover William, “a shape-shifting forest dweller.” It features love, murder and a myriad of other plot elements rarely seen in music. This is not an album that will be spawning many singles or catchy Billboard hits. Rather, what’s audible is a story with charming tracks that attempt to capture the listener’s imagination.

“The Hazards of Love” follows three years after the release of “The Crane Wife,” which was widely accepted by critics as one of the band’s best efforts and was named the Best Album of 2006 by listeners of National Public Radio. There are a few parallels, with “The Crane Wife” also being related to a Japanese folk tale and somewhat narrative-based.

This is not an album you can listen to while working out or at a party. Just like you wouldn’t drink a glass of cabernet at a kegger (I pray that none of you ever do), “Hazards” has its place in the musical listen-o-sphere, and its place is located in the part of your day when you’re in the mood to listen to fairy tales of shape-shifting forest dwellers, a forest queen and the drama that ensues.

All kidding aside, the album is not entirely strange shuffled around, but it definitely has to be listened to in order at least once to make any sort of sense. With this in mind, standout tracks include “The Rake’s Song,” “Isn’t it a Lovely Night” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves.”

I applaud The Decemberists’ effort in making an album that breaks traditional molds and takes a step farther towards weird than mainstream bands do. “Hazards” is an enjoyable forest romp (did I just say that?) that might tickle your music bone and make you wonder what exactly a shape-shifting forest dweller is doing dwelling in a forest.