The 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s have combined with mythical synths to create The Decemberists eighth studio album, I’ll Be Your Girl. Three years in the making since their last release, What a Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the indie rock band have stepped away from their story telling roots to take a more direct approach. The band have cited the mood of the album to be heavily influence by the 2016 presidential election, profoundly evident in songs like ‘Everything is Awful.’ However I’ll Be Your Girl still has that old Decemberist charm in the fantastical eight minute track ‘Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes’ among a few others.
Once in My Life
The album begins with the road trip worthy ‘Once in My Life’, Colin’s vocals calling out for a damn break. The track embodies the frustrations conjured by life with the backing track creating that sensation of floating after losing your way, the simplicity of the lyrics putting the power and focus on only wanting ‘something to go right.’ The inspirational, space like sound of ‘Once in My Life’ is a break through start to I’ll Be Your Girl, evoking images of escape from the mundane and discovering what the world has to offer – a mood continuously explored as you delve further into the album.
A galloping song propelling the album forward at a suddenly jaunting fast pace, ‘Your Ghost’ is a hero’s anthem if we ignore the haunting lyrics. The swirling yet slightly unnerving sound is surprisingly upbeat and switches that feeling of escape from ‘Once in My Life’ to one of needing to flee. The electric guitar riffs chase you like something from a Muse album before settling down once more into a haunting atmosphere, the fast pace continued by the almost over lapping ‘na, na, na, na.’
I’ll Be Your Girl is not all about these new twists and turns but also contains a few of those comfort pieces more recognisable as The Decemberists with ‘Tripping Along’ being a slow slide back into those sweet ballads. A pretty song that evokes a sound akin to Panic! At the Disco’s Pretty. Odd if it were set in space instead of a Beatles’ paradise, ‘Tripping Along’ is backed by soft synths that slowly soar but never break the soothing atmosphere created by the melancholy lyrics.
Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes
Truly a song of two parts, ‘Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes’ begins like something from the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings before the epic synths transport it to the fantastical world of Legend, backed up by lines like ‘the ring slipped my finger/and drifted down the deepening pool.’ Much like their 2004 song ‘The Tain’ based upon an Irish legend, ‘Rusalka, Rusalka’ is referring to an old Slavic tale about a mermaid who seduces men to drown them. The song beings in a beautiful anguish building to a crescendo that could end the song but instead bursts into a sunny disposition. Placed as the penultimate song on the album, we have fully returned to The Decemberists classic sound of talented story telling through mystical music. A personal favourite from I’ll Be Your Girl, ‘Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes’ is a cleverly crafted masterpiece of intriguing beauty.
Another favourite (possibly the favourite) ‘Sucker’s Pray’ is a vulnerable song filled with descending piano keys and wavering guitar riffs. Apart from the captivating guitar solo, the sound of the song is nothing overly spectacular compared to other tracks like ‘Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes’, but the lyrics are harrowing, honest and heart-breaking. The vocal delivery is as poetic as the words, the simplicity of ‘I wanna love somebody but I don’t know how’ evoking a longing felt with every fibre of the body. An immensely beautiful song that blossoms like an old country tune with a weird twist, it could have been the title track for the album – ‘Sucker’s Pray’ embodying the entire mood of I’ll Be Your Girl.
Of course, these are only a few of the songs on the album with others like ‘Cutting Stone’ starting off as a tavern tale before becoming something belonging more in a disco whilst ‘Starwatcher’ has definite Radiohead vibes to it. ‘Everything is Awful’ is pretty much what is says on the tin, the feeling of defeat mixed with hope almost tangible. The name sake of the album, ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ is a sweet send out, romanticised lyrics delivered softly over a two-and-a-half-minute track. I’ll Be Your Girl is infused with vintage sounds and images of an old world with feelings and emotions taken from our current world. With this album The Decemberists’ music continues to have the same allure and fantastical element from previous albums whilst also testing new waters.
Review by Skye W. Winwood