CD Reviews


The Decemberists The King Is Dead (Capitol)

After the dark, challenging, overwrought rock opera The Hazards of Love (2009), Portland’s The Decemberists could only double back into shinier, happier territory. Sure enough, there’s a tip of the 12-string Rickenbacker to jangle-pop predecessors with “Calamity Song,” a buoyant, old-school Athens, Ga.-style rocker that features R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar. It’s the second track on what’s essentially an alt-countrified rebirth of a band whose nasally vocalist, Colin Meloy, once employed a British accent and songwriting approach. The Decemberists, named after a 19th-century Russian revolt, have dropped baroque Europe and picked up rootsy Americana. The result is admirable, easily their best work, largely due to Gillian Welch, who lends her vocals to most of these songs, providing Meloy with gritty counterpoint and making him sound less academic and more authentic, like on the piano-and-pedal steel-emblazoned ballad “Rise to Me,” which opens like a flower in a high-speed blossom film. Pretentious band pares down, gains everything. ★★★★☆


Ghost Opus Eponymous (Rise Above)

Not since The Darkness (R.I.P.) has heavy rock music sounded so wretchedly evil yet so darn sugary. Sweden’s Ghost pushes a satanic message of human sacrifice (“Ritual”) within its over-the-top lyrics while still offering an alluring blend of sinister, punchy guitar riffs and melodic, layered vocals. Often the irony is too obvious, as when the anonymous singer (the band members’ identities remain shrouded in mystery) croons the number 666 in the Sabbath-inspired “Death Knell.” But for every goofy misstep, there are delightful moments—for example, “Elizabeth,” the ultimate musical tribute to blood-guzzling Countess Báthory, and “Satan Prayer,” every note of which screams 1979 as if from a speeding, tape deck-blasting Firebird. Live, the band wears robes and engulfs itself in a thick cloud of incense; the singer dons a papal vestment and tiara, and a Halloween-grade skeleton mask. Still, a guilty pleasure that’s way too much fun. ★★★☆☆


Wire Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

Few bands had such an obvious impact on what would become ’80s alternative music and post-punk like London’s Wire. Their 1977 debut album, Pink Flag, boasted an arty foundation—damaged lyrics, moody textures, odd song constructions, angular guitar lines—upon which later acts such as The Cure and Joy Division would overlay their Jim Morrison mimicry. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Wire gave punk brains while the Sex Pistols gave it brawn. Red Barked Tree, the band’s 12th album, is a comfortable but not overly compelling extension of what Wire set out to do 30 years ago: Nudge pop music in a more cerebral direction. The dense yet technically minimalist guitar miasma of “Adapt” reminds the listener just how much later artists, especially Brit-popsters such as Oasis, are indebted, while the dissonant spoken-word rocket of “Two Minutes” lunges at you, suggesting it would be very unwise to dismiss Wire as being past its prime. I’m certainly not. ★★★☆☆

Suggested Next Read

I Love You Philip Morris (R)

Movie Review

I Love You Philip Morris (R)

There’s something truly romantic about the bond between Ewan McGregor’s and Jim Carrey’s gay lovers in this con-man story. Based on the exploits of an actual thief named Steven Russell, the movie is funny and dramatic. Russell discovers a love for fellow prison inmate Phillip Morris (McGregor) while serving time. Lots of fun goofy sight-gags, slapstick chase scenes and snappy character bluffs.