The King is Dead

The King is Dead marks a welcome return to simplicity for The Decemberists. For many fans of the Portland five-piece, that’s a good thing - the group already has a nine-minute sea shanty to its name, and their last record was a conceptual ‘rock opera’.

Singer Colin Meloy seems to have toned down the pomp and abstruse lyrics this time round to deliver instead a bunch of unpretentious, country-driven songs with trappings of traditional Celtic music. Country legend Gillian Welch lends a hand with vocal harmonies, while the group also enlists the help of REM’s Peter Buck.

The harmonica blazes and a mandolin tinkles as the album gets off to an arresting start with Don’t Carry It All. It’s full, confident and it sounds celebratory - even if it’s not supposed to lyrically. Rox in the Box, with its ‘One, two, three’ chorus, may make you believe for a split second that you’re at an actual céilí, though with added menace to the lyrics: 'And if you ever make it to ten you won't make it again'.

It’s an undisguised genre exercise - but darn good all the same. All Arise!, complete with saloon piano and fiddle, does try a bit too hard to replicate an ‘authentic’ country sound, but there’s little else to detract from this enticing rural fling.

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