Review: The Decemberists, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

A pleasant escape that says, “Hey look, all the shitty times in our lives deserve to be danced to.”
The Decemberists Terrible World


Four years. That’s how long it’s been since fans were able to revel in new music from The Decemberists. Since then, the band's grown. They’ve worked other projects. They’ve started and raised families while juggling their careers and coping with the realization that they too are getting older. This moment of normality led frontman Colin Meloy to look inward. To look for happiness in the confusing present and excitement in the somewhat distant, anxious future.

They’ve returned, this time with a 14-track offering that further highlights the intricately laced harmonica and deep drum rhythms of Don’t Carry It All, to the summery guitar strums and upbeat moments in The Crane Wife. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World straddles just that: the cliché story of ups and downs but in a much more manageable, less down-trodden and more positive piece.

With upbeat records like “Make You Better,” you get less Neutral Milk Hotel and more Minus the Bear. The album is an ode to joy. A cocoon of emotion that says, “Hey look, all the shitty times in our lives deserve to be danced to.” And it does just that.

This isn’t the band’s best album by any means. Far from it. However, it’s that different taste, that new approach that The Decemberists have been able to take on seven different albums that makes What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World special. Whether fans enjoyed the heavier Hazards of Love, or the dark edgings of Castaways and Cutouts, or even the countryside drivings of The King Is Dead, the band’s seventh offering has just enough for everyone. Though not as immaculately realized or nearly as heartfelt as those other albums, What a Terrible World is a delight to listen to.

With songs like "12/17/12" (the title President Obama’s national address on the reaction to the Newtown shooting) we wade through weighty lyricism coupled with a breezy harmonica and guitar twangs laced with just enough Jenny Conlee to take the edge off. It’s juxtaposition like this that makes the album heavy, in theory, but light-hearted enough in delivery so as not to make the listener feel as guilty about tapping their foot to the beat of a wailing society. What a Terrible World beckons its listeners to come together and hold hands, to hug one another and let go. They're not always entirely compelling, but it's difficult to question Meloy & co's sincerity in these Kumbaya moments, and that is the band's true triumph here. An album with this much warmth, this much pleasantness, in the midst of a harsh winter should be, at the very least, appreciated. B-