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The Decemberists hark back to the classic-rock ideal of album as artistic statement, one you must sit down with, preferably after a bong hit or with a bottle of wine and some fine cheeses, don headphones and listen to from start to finish.

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Kicking Off a Series on Prospective Grammy Contenders, Lenny Hazards a Guess That The Decemberists Will Contend for Album of the Year
With the Grammy deadline pushed up this year to the end of August, the candidates for the major categories have begun to surface, chiefly Taylor Swift and Kanye West, who would appear to be shoo-ins (if there is such a thing) for Album of the Year nominations. Both missed last year’s deadline, have been critically lauded and continue to perform well.

I have asked my esteemed colleague, HITS Sr. Editor Roy Trakin, to join me in evaluating Grammy-worthy talent and co-writing the blog. Over the next few weeks, we’ll delineate our suggestions for contenders in the Album and other sexy categories, and our first early dark-horse recommendation in the Album race is The Decemberists’ epic The Hazards of Love on Capitol—a throwback to classic rock-opera concept records in the mold of Sgt. Pepper and, even more so, The Who’s Tommy—which has deservedly been receiving major press kudos worldwide.

This is the Portland-based band’s fifth and most ambitious effort yet, but singer/ songwriter Colin Meloy has been treading this territory for a while now, from the anachronistic sea chanteys of the band’s 2003 album Her Majesty the Decemberists to the Japanese folk tale/murder ballad that formed the centerpiece of the group’s last effort, 2007’s The Crane Wife.

In this age of a singles-oriented iTunes-saturated jukebox mentality, The Decemberists hark back to the classic-rock ideal of album as artistic statement, one you must sit down with, preferably after a bong hit or with a bottle of wine and some fine cheeses, don headphones (or earbuds, as the case may be) and listen to from start to finish.

Part Jacobean revenge tragedy, Chaucerian fable and Sweeney Todd-styled libretto, with a dash of the pastoral English folk-rock of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, Traffic’s John Barleycorn Is Dead and Led Zeppelin forays like “The Battle of Evermore,” The Hazards of Love rewards close listening to its timeless man vs. nature scenario, with Meloy as the medieval troubadour intoning the narrative as if it were an epic poem.

Meloy tells the tale of a woman named Margaret, who is impregnated by her shape-shifting lover William, then abducted by a murderous “rake” and prevented from reconciling with her feckless ex by a meddling mother-in-law and mythological staple, the Queen of the Primeval Forest.

But don’t think for a minute that this piece is difficult to warm up to. The songs and instrumentation are brilliant, with a familiarity to the instrumentation and vocal prowess that makes this album INSTANTLY FUN to hear and enjoy.

While Meloy insists the album is meant to be heard in our heads rather than seen on a stage, The Hazards of Love plays out just that way, as certain musical themes repeat themselves in the title track’s four separate iterations, as well as in the climactic reprise for “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” which sends the main characters to a watery demise.

Like the album’s ageless theme about the dangers of nature vs. the comforts of civilization, the music is steeped in its own classic inspirations, from the funk-driven blues-rock of “Won’t Want for Love” and the Ziggy Stardust-meets-T. Rex glam-rock of “The Rake’s Song” (an instantly catchy tale about, of all things, infanticide, that could be a breakout single somewhere down the road) to the Zeppelin thunder of “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing.”

If there’s any 2009 release that deserves to be in consideration for an Album Grammy, it is The Decemberists and their ambitious The Hazards of Love, a bearer of the classic-rock mythos for the iPod generation. Get it, listen to it, enjoy it!

Agree? Disagree? Have your own early Grammy prognostications? Tell us at [email protected].

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