Despite numerous avaricious attempts at recreating the indie gems found on earlier albums, The Decemberists have been struggling to hit the mark this decade. The eighth studio release from the Oregon quintet sees the addition of synth-swathed tracks and a collection of songs that are lacking in direction.
Spanning eleven tracks, ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ comes across as half-baked despite having some really promising moments. Opener Once In My Life sees the distinctive vocal of Colin Meloy floating over acoustic guitar. It feels familiar and gives you a sense of hope that okay, maybe this is the album they’ll really shine on. Even the addition of some New Order-esque synths is fine, but that’s really where the forward propulsion pauses.
Cutting Stone is classic, quirky Decemberists but the lyrics themselves feel lazy. While Meloy has penned more than one song about murdering children, it feels awkward and out of place and lacks the distinct charm found on earlier tracks that were similar, like The Rake’s Song.
‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ jerks awkwardly down a series of different paths, but never really commits to one overall sound. Late on the album comes Rusalka, Rusalka/ The Wild Rushes, a narrative based on a Slavic parable about a mermaid who seduces men in an attempt to trick them into drowning. While a decade ago this kind of idea could have spanned a whole album for the Oregon band, it’s kind of just thrown in as a lazy homage to fans who’ve been there since the start.
Sucker’s Prayer is a sickly sweet Southern US track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 70’s compilation album. The chorus of “I wanna love someone but I don’t know how/ I’ve been so long lonely and it’s getting me down” tugs at heartstrings thanks to Meloy’s crooning and it almost redeems the truly weird middle of the album.
The evolution to keep things fresh is admirable but it does forcibly shed one of the most charming attributes of The Decemberists which was their ability to weave folk tales through their music. The addition of synths breathes a certain freshness into the music but it also takes away their uniqueness, turning them into just another indie band. The meticulous plotting of albums is long gone and instead is replaced with a band that seem to be throwing things at the wall and going with whatever doesn’t fall straight off.
‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ is kind of like one of those goody bags you’d get as a kid after a birthday party. It’s kind of exciting and you take the good bits out of it, but the rest of it gets thrown into some barren bedroom corner and forgotten about.