Despite having loved The Decemberists’ earlier works in the past, I was not at all excited for this, their seventh studio album. Oh God, I thought. This is going to be awful. I didn’t even have the curiosity to listen to it– ever since their seminal work, Picaresque, came out in 2005, everything after that seemed to pale in comparison. A seventh album? Please. Plus, the art was ugly.
I popped the disc into my player anyway and I have to say, I was blown away. It was so great. I listened to it on the floor of my bedroom four times in a row. I listened to it getting ready for work in the morning, which made me feel better about the inevitably shitty day ahead. I listened to it when I got home from work, and I didn’t stop listening for a while. It’s lovely– it draws you in.
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World doesn’t see the band changing much in terms of their classic, folky sound. In fact, perhaps its similarity to the newer albums but also similarity to the older stuff. If I heard it, I would immediately recognize it as a Decemberists record– but I also recognize and appreciate that since their peak (?) in 2005, they’ve cleaned up their sound, polished it up a bit so they’re not as all over the place as they were before. This album jumps off the change they were hoping to make in their last 2011 release, The King Is Dead, and finally showcases the band for the mature, growing sound they were looking to get to.
I was truly, truly surprised by how good this record was, and how much I genuinely enjoyed it. I mean, it’s not their best work, and perhaps it’s because I had such low expectations, but I’ve been listening to it a lot. I could easily say it’s fine, but the truth is, it’s more than fine. Songs like “Philomena” and “Make You Better” bring back memories of listening to The Decemberists back in the day, but “12/17/12”– a song referencing the lead singer Colin Meloy’s mixed feelings about the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shooting and his own personal happiness in his life (which, incidentially, is what inspired the name of the album– a line from that song)– is a much better representation of the band’s stylistic changes and slight improvements. It seems as though they’ve finally got to where they wanted to be with this recording, as though they’ve finally put on the finishing touches to their sound and creations.