Album: The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (Capitol)

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The Independent Culture

Sometimes, a good idea isn't quite enough. Always a fan of 1960s British folk-rock and prog, Decemberists songwriter Colin Meloy was inspired to create this concept album by hearing Anne Briggs's rare 1966 EP The Hazards Of Love.

There being no track of that title on the EP, Meloy decided to write one, and wound up composing an entire rock-operatic song-cycle couched in trad-folk terminology, about a maiden ravaged by a shape-shifting animal. It's created with a good ear for both period diction and the prog-folk instrumental palette, with references to "thistledown" and "arbour eaves", and archaic locutions like "Bereft the weight of our summer clothes" set to mostly stringed accompaniment. In the case of "Annan Water", it's as if the group are trying for the full set of folksy instrumentation, with mandolin, dulcimer, hurdy-gurdy, organ and autoharp crowded in alongside the guitars, bass and drums. Unfortunately, the dread spectres of Jethro Tull and Atomic Rooster rise above tracks where the folksy arrangements develop heavy blues-rock riffing of 1970s vintage. Elsewhere, the strings and piano ostinatos resemble Arcade Fire. But the decision to have the tracks segue into a long narrative imposes too onerous a duty on the listener: after all, it's still just pastiche.

Download this: 'Annan Water', 'The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!)', 'The Wanting Comes In Waves (reprise)'

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