Monday, January 12, 2009

Reviews of EPs from Last Year, Part II

Review: Always the Bridesmaid EPs, the Decemberists

In this curious arrangement of three EPs of two songs each, we have the latest efforts from the Decemberists. Why the obtuse order of release? Tough to know; a single EP of six songs might be more conventional. But then, the Decemberists were never known for convention. Recall their first album, a six-song EP called 5 Songs. As if that makes any sense.

I mention 5 Songs specifically because in some strange way, Always the Bridesmaid hearkens back to the earlier EP. Personal, mostly heartfelt songs about relationships, mostly gone sour. Ill-gotten souvenirs. Raincoats that only make it rain more. Lapses from drinking. Something fouled up so badly that it recalls the fall of the Roman Empire. One of the first descriptions I heard of the Decemberists was something about their "over-the-top grandiloquence", and it seems to have returned--or at least changed form to look more like its old self--on this EP.

The worst song, by far, is "I'm Sticking With You". The Decemberists ought to have learned long ago that songs that repeat the same phrase over and over again for their entirety are not their best.

But it's made more than okay by "Valerie Plame", by far the best song on the EP. It's like "The Bagman's Gambit" from Picaresque recast from the Cold War to the War on Terror. This song has just about everything going for it. First, and most saliently for me, we all know the Decemberists have some expressed political leanings. Very, very rarely do I think that's an appropriate matter for music--leave it to the angry talking heads and op-ed writers. Despite writing a song about a current event that sparked a good deal of outrage and controversy, the Decemberists never make the song overtly political, mostly because it's only tangentially about the controversy anyway. I hope they realize that their song is that much stronger for it.

Of course, it also includes a catchy chorus. A horn line that, like the subject matter, reminds us of Picaresque. A much lighter mood than "The Bagman's Gambit", as if to poke fun at the guy in the song rather than build up drama around him.

All in all, this is a decent collection of songs. It works well for fans of the band who've had a two year drought of new music; even though you won't really feel like you've heard anything new, that's sort of okay. At the very least, maybe it'll remind you why you loved the Decemberists in the first place.

Currently listening: Day and Age, the Killers

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