Decemberists redeemed with ‘Beautiful World’ 

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  • COURTESY PHOTO
I eagerly anticipated The Decemberists new album "What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World," especially after 2011's not-so good "The King is Dead." I hoped the band would return to the storytelling that made its earlier records so enthralling. It has, partially.

“Beautiful World” doesn't have an engrossing tale like 2006's "The Crane Wife," which was based on a Japanese folk story, but it's a colossal improvement over the dull "The King is Dead" and "The Hazards of Love."

It plays as part apology and longing for love, and, for the most part, it works. Colin Meloy's novella-lite lyrics vividly detail a baroque folk world, and the music is ambitious and thoughtful, touching on whimsical.

Yet the expressive lyrics become a tad too self-aware at times. The first song, "The Singer Addresses His Audience," comes off as self-important, as Meloy apologizes for the band’s recent previous releases, which apparently weren't up to snuff.

The Decemberists' characteristic strumming guitars, strings and horns are quiet and reflective on the "The Lake Song," sorrowful on "Make You Better" and triumphant on "A Beginning Song."

In 53 minutes, the band hits every note from its past, both lyrically and musically, making the opening track's "sorry" tone meaningless. If there is something to be sorry for, why repeat the same things?

Yet "12-17-12" toward the end of the CD, which starts with harmonica, is powerful. It describes Meloy's thoughts and dreams just days after the Sandy Hook massacre when his wife is pregnant, and catches the songwriter begging for his son to grow up in a good world.

The final track, "A Beginning Song," ends with a colossal chant and blaring horns, as Meloy waits and begs for his love.

Although "Beautiful World" isn't The Decemberists at their best – “The Crane Wife," with its beautiful storytelling, is – it's an imperfect welcome back.

The packaging also is beautiful. The cover has a sword and bow-and-arrow wielding woman in the middle of pattern that looks like it could be a quilt from native Pacific Northwest Indians. Three sides of the double LP have music. The fourth has an etching that resembles the cover artwork. I purchased the colored vinyl variant, a marbled teal.

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