What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
After a four year break, during which keyboardist Jenny Conlee successfully battled breast cancer and Colin Meloy published a trilogy of children’s fantasy novels with his wife, The Decemberists returned with What a Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. It explores similar Americana territory to The King Is Dead, but it’s a more set of personal songs for Meloy, and it often sounds more like the work of a singer-songwriter than the more dramatic territory that’s typical of Decemberists’ albums.
The most immediate, catchiest songs like ‘Make You Better’, ‘Philomena’, ‘A Beginning Song’, and ‘Cavalry Captain’ are the strongest. The violin hook of ‘Cavalry Captain’ drives one of the group’s most memorable songs, and there’s a nice Johnny Marr style jangle on ‘The Wrong Year’. The song ’12/17/12′ contains the lyrics “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”, and references President Obama’s reaction to the Newtown School shootings.
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World does feel insubstantial outside its generous handful of instantly memorable songs, and it rates as one of The Decemberists’ lesser, and less imaginative, albums. It’s worth hearing its best moments, but there’s not enough great material on it to justify 57 minutes of running time. It would be great to hear the band attempt something more lofty next time around.