The Decemberists were once the unquestioned champs of folk rock. Their songs told old tales, whether they be the stories of sailors or of poor boys who made something of themselves. Over the years, the band's sound has evolved and they took a very different path, and sometimes it doesn't always settle nicely. The Decemberists face an identity crisis in I'll Be Your Girl, their divisive new record that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.
There are traces of what originally made The Decemberists so noteworthy. The upbeat intro 'Once In My Life' is pretty energizing to kick the album off. Huge choruses define 'Severed,' allowing for the album to truly reach some epic moments. The atmosphere of 'Tripping Along' is very nice, the raw sound otherwise making for a wonderful sound. It's not until the end of the album, with the epic 'Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes' that calls back to the bands first true folk stories. The dark, dramatic sound of the song ominously kicks it off, sounding almost cinematic. The song slowly builds in a brilliant and beautiful way, leading to something just fascinating to listen to, all the while returning to The Decemberists' beloved story-telling sound.
The problem in I'll Be Your Girl is that the substance is lost in the band trying to be different. It's first heard in 'Cutting Stone,' the lyrics sounding similar to the folky style of old Decemberists, and the bassline is very refreshing, but the meaning feels a bit contrived and as if it tries to hard to hit upon that same magic. This begins the identity crisis the band faces, which continues on mid-way through the album. As the album goes on, it becomes very much hit or miss. 'Everything Is Awful' is just a mess overall, while 'We All Die Young' feels like a middle-aged crisis trying to grasp onto youth. Closing track 'I'll Be Your Girl' just feels out of place and contrived, not ending the album off on a great note.
The Decemberists face an identity crisis in I'll Be Your Girl, attempting to reconnect with their former glory but failing to properly and convincingly evolve their sound. Changing your sound comes with a very fine line, and you cannot go halfway into it. The uncertainty of I'll Be Your Girl is undoubtedly what brings it down.
Favorite Tracks: Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes, Severed
Least Favorite Tracks: Everything Is Awful, We All Die Young, Sucker's Prayer
Rating: 66 / 100
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