Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's got a beat and you can dance to it

As an addendum to my previous post, where I expressed my wish that the Decemberists haven't lost their ability to knock out a good pop song or two... well, thankfully, they haven't. Last fall they released some singles to iTunes, and I didn't find out about/end up downloading them till recently, but they were a big help to me during a busy work week. They're largely upbeat and never ponderous--virtues that seem all the more precious after my disappointment with The Hazards of Love.

"Valerie Plame" is almost the Platonic ideal of the Decemberists in pop-song mode: whimsical take on current events (cf. "Sixteen Milit'ry Wives"), use of instruments that rock bands don't normally employ (I think there's a tuba oompahing along), juxtaposition of cleverly rhymed lyrics ("My Vespa became your chariot / From the Green Zone Marriott") with passages of wordless la-dee-dah-ing. "Days of Elaine" is almost as good--how can you not love a song that contains the lyrics "A lover like Alain Delon / She followed him blind from saloon to salon"? Also, before listening to this song, I'd been thinking about how there's a lot of death in Decemberists songs, and about 50% of the time it's death by drowning, and that they really needed to find some different ways of killing off their characters. And then I heard Colin Meloy gleefully sing "He got all strung up on the scaffolding!"--so the Decemberists have added death-by-hanging to their repertoire. Good for them. Meanwhile, "A Record Year for Rainfall" is quieter, less flashily rhymed, with a haunting loneliness--an anatomy of a failed relationship set against the Portland rain.

So I'm embarrassed now to call myself a Decemberists fan, not having heard these songs as soon as they came out (in my defense, I was very busy in the fall, and living with a bunch of people who listened to the new Britney single on repeat and would have been baffled, or worse, by the Decemberists). I'm grateful that the Decemberists are still writing and recording songs like these; but it's their labored sixty-minute rock opera that gets the marketing push and the media attention, and indeed these tracks were released under the title Always the Bridesmaid, which implies that the band considers them runners-up, second-class citizens...

2 comments:

Jaime said...

I really need to get those. I, too, was a terrible ignorant fan, and had no idea they existed until I was at a Decemberists concert last fall. They played Valerie Plame, and I can still sing the chorus. Hella catchy. This was the day after the election, I think, and there was an Obama life-size cut-out on stage.

Marissa said...

All right, at least I'm not the only fan who neglected these songs when they came out!

That concert after the election must've been a lot of fun. I think they played at a big Obama rally in Portland a year ago too, but unfortunately I couldn't be there...