I love this album. It's pop music for history geeks! From the jaunty "The Chimbley Sweep" - a baudy but wretched tale of a miserable Victorian urchin, to the rambling "Shanty for the Arethusa" - a sea shanty in the tradition of "Barrett's Privateers" - to the stirring yet desolate "The Soldiering Life" - each song is a little crystalline story - not just a catchy tune with tightly written pop hooks, but also a tale in and of itself. Imagine, lyrics that go a little deeper than "oh baby baby, I want to fornicate with you" - and even tell some intriguing and wrenching stories from history? On their website, they list as "assorted things we adore": McSweeney's, This American Life, The Flashman Society, Balthus, Tom Stoppard, Dylan Thomas, Vladimir Nabokov, Patrick O'Brian and Russian Prison Tattoos. Hey, I love those things, too! (Maybe not so much the Russian prison tattoos.)
Of course, to balance out the history-geekiness, there's just straight up ballads, like "The Bachelor and the Bride" - but they're not easy to pigeon hole. Neither torch-songs, nor tragedies, nor tales of post-modern existential angst - they're something in between, usually a mix of all of the above. Take "Los Angeles, I'm Yours":
Its hollowness will haunt you
Its streets and boulevards
Orphans and oligarchs it hears
A plaintive melody
An ocean's garbled vomit on the shore,
Los Angeles, I'm yours
Do they love LA? Do they hate it? Is it a little bit of both? Hey, me too!
Basically, I like The Decemberists because they remind me of my friends, and therefore, I think that when they come to LA next month, they should hang out with me, and become my friends. I have no skills which would be of any use to them, but still, I would like to join them on their gypsy-like rambles around the U.S. and Europe. Oh, the adventures we would have! The stories we would tell! The t-shirts we would buy!
Until then, I will just listen to them over and over again - in all their pared-down, spare, elegant musical beauty (with accordian!) and their nuanced, complicated, history-geeky lyrical glory. Everyone should buy this album, unless they are willfully ignorant, and/or square.