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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Burt digs Hazards of Love

Burt commands you listen to The Decemberists

I am officially obsessed with this album.  While it’s true that I did not care for it at first, upon a few more listens it really began to grow on me.  After my roommate pointed out part of the plotline, then I really got into it.  Modern rock operas are rare and when they are done well, there’s something magical about the when great music tells a great story.  Ok, I may be building the album up a bit much.  The story isn’t an incredible tale, but it is well done and is done in true decemberists fashion.  Anyways, it is worth picking up.  I would link a cut off the album, but it’s not really that sort of album and whenever I listen to a song off the album alone it never quite sounds right.

However, you can download The Decemberists live show at NPR where they do the entire album cover to cover.   Enjoy!

As I was browsing for reviews, I came across this neat summary of the album’s story on wikipedia.  It was removed as unsourced and isn’t on the current Hazards of Love entry, so I’m going to go ahead and add my thoughts and then post it here so it doesn’t end up being lost.  Without further adieu, an unofficial summary of the album, excluding “Prelude” and “An Interlude”:

1. “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t wrestle the Thistles Undone)”: The main character (Margaret) is walking in the forest at some point during the day and comes upon a wounded fawn. After helping it, the sun goes down and it changes into a man, William,.  They head back to his place and make love (as we find out in the next song). Offa’s Wall” likely refers to Offa’s Dyke, an earthwork along the border between England and Wales.

2. “A Bower Scene”: Margaret is in her bower (a lady’s house of sorts).  The song begins with a nun at the Bower house (or perhaps Margaret’s sister, but then why does she call Margaret daugher?) asking her when her water will break and who is the father?   It is revealed in this song that Margaret is pregnant with her fawn-man’s child.  After a while passes and her baby grows inside of her, she goes back to the Taiga to seek out William.

3. “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)”: Margaret is singing while looking for her lover that even though she is with a child, she “won’t want for love”.  The Taiga is a forest in Scotland

4. “The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)”: William is singing while he is with Margaret in the forest. He is saying that he has never felt love before, and would “wager all” on his new-found love.

5. “The Queen’s Approach”: Our introduction to the queen. This 29 second piece has no lyrics.

6. “Isn’t it a Lovely Night?”: Margaret and William saying “isn’t it a lovely night” while out in the forest together.  They sing to each other and the baby.  They reminisce about the night they met and revist the place where they conceived the baby she is currently carrying (here we died our little deaths).

7. “The Wanting Comes in Waves/ Repaid”: William hears the  queen coming and knows she’s upset he has been fraternizing with Margaret, but he’s in love and is feeling “the wanting.”  William and the queen have a conversation about his loving Margaret. The queen is angry because she feels that he has betrayed her by falling in love after she “saved him from the world of men” (remember, he is a shapeshifter, and so would have likely been killed). William is saying in return that he knows this, but he cannot stop loving Margaret and he wants to make a deal.   The Queen promised him life when she saved him and this is the life he wants, so just give him this night with his love and he will return to mother/queen in the morning.   Queen says that’s a deal and she will retake his life in the morning (which is sung “Your life for the evening I will retake by morning” and is prophetic) and he should consider her debt to him repaid  (which i interpret as she will expect him to leave Margaret and the human world forever).

8. “The Rake’s Song”: Our introduction to the Rake, a criminal who found love, was married at 21 and things went well until his wife started having babies when he “reckoned my curse.”  His wife had three kids, Isiah, then Charlotte and then Dawn.  Finally, during labor their fourth child, Myfanwy, along with the Rake’s wife dies in childbirth.  The Rake then decided that rather than be a widower and take care of his three kids he would kill them.  He feeds Charlotte foxglove (a poisonous flower), drowns Dawn and burns Isiah for struggling against him.  Now he’s free, happy and doesn’t feel bad about it one bit.

9. “The Abduction of Margaret”: As said in the title, Margaret is abducted from the thick vines and branches which makes her bed with William.  The Rake abducts her, ties her hands, throws her over the back of his horse and rides off while contemplating how he will cross Annan Water.

10. “The Queen’s Rebuke/ The Crossing”:  We learn the queen is the queen of the forest and literally is the forest (if you haven’t figure it out yet).  She is still really bitter about William and Margaret and evidently either told the Rake to capture Margaret or is simply not stopping him after he has already done it. The queen speaks to the Rake, who has “removed the temptation from her innocent child and tells him she will fly him across the river, Annan Water.

11. “Annan Water”: The hero appears!  William know Margaret is in danger and is trying to save her, but the river blocks him from his desire.   William is trying to cross the river, but that the river is too strong to cross and attempts at crossing via horse would mean sure death.  The queen knows this and is begs him not to try.  He asks the river to calm and let him pass and asks the river to hears his true love calls and she is in trouble.   If only he could fly he would cros the river and hold her head with its amber hair to his breast.   William tells it that it can have him when he returns from rescuing Margaret, if it calms and lets him pass.  On another note, there is an Annan river in Scotland that also runs through the Taiga forest (a la “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga).  We also hear the welsh name Myfanwy in the Rake’s Song.   All of which suggest the setting is Scotland int he Taiga forest.

12. “Margaret in Captivity”: Margaret and the Rake are talking. The Rake is saying that she will not be found or rescued where she is, but Margaret is saying that her true love will come to rescue her.

13. “The Hazards of Love (Revenge!)”: The Rake’s dead children calling hauntingly to their father.    They each recount how their father killed with Charlotte and Dawn feigning a naivete that papa must have made a mistake feeding her a poisonous flower and leaving the water on.  Isaiah, however, makes a sort of cryptic threat “Spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child, but I prefer the lash” (or it could be a reference to beatings he was subjected to by the Rake);  Whether they haunt him in life or death (perhap as William has killed him) is unknown (Isaiah’s  “And buried in an urn, but father I return” suggests the Rake is still alive, however, Dawn’s “But papa here in death” suggests he has joined them in death).

14. “The Wanting Comes In Waves (Reprise)”:  William singing about “the wanting” or the waves of emotion he experiences as he reunites with Margaret (the Rake is out of the picture, presumably dispated by William), but at the end realizes they aren’t safe(repercussions from killing the Rake in his fortress perhaps) and must run, but where to go?  He has betrayed the Queen, promised himself to the Annan river upon his return and as a deer by day and man by night, he isn’t exactly going to fit in the civilized world.

15. “The Hazards of Love (The Drowned’)”: William and Margaret go to the Annan river to repay his debt (which even had he not, he would have been ripped from Margaret in the morning per his agreement with the Queen).  Margaret choosed to die with William rather than to separate again.  They sing together how they both got each other into this by calling and pulling each other’s call (ex. William pulls Margaret in with his injury, Margaret comes back to the forest and calls William, who is then pulled to her side…etc.) They enter the riverb, with the water still calmed from William’s earlier deal, and as the water begins to rise to claim them, William proposes to Margaret, they say their vows and share a kiss just before being overtaken by the great wave of water (as the river returns to normal).    At the last line, the lyrics switch to third person suggesting William can no longer narrate and the narrator from earlier takes over for one last line describing the final kiss.  They will wander the river together foreveras ghosts and will no longer be bothered by the hazards of love.  Basically, the story ends in true Decemberists tradgedy with the death (as much as they can…the Queen is the Forest and the river doesn’t count) of the hero and the heroine.

A few other things to think about…what happens to Margaret’s baby?  presumably it dies in the womb, but who knows?  In The Island on The Decemberists album “The Crane Wife” the baby miraculously surfaces or perhaps it is somehow rescued by the Queen and the story begins again (might as well keep it on repeat then with the baby as the new William given the form of a fawn by day)?

Oh, and I don’t get this at all (from “The Hazards of Love (The Drowned’)):

Margaret, array the rocks around the hole before we’re sinking
A million stones, a million bones, a million holes within the chinking
And painting rings around your eyes, these peppered holes too filled with crying
A whispered weight upon the tattered down where you and I were lying

Tell me now, tell me this, a forest’s son, a river’s daughter
A willow on the will-o’-wisp, our ghost to wander all of the water

I read one commentator who thought that this was Margaret drowning her baby who was stillborn after the abuse she suffered by the Rake.

You can also stream one of their older 2005 live shows on NPR here.

Buy Hazards of Love!

pic unrelated

pic unrelated

NPR has a big collection of interviews and live audio and video concert recordings available for download or streaming at their Live in Concert website. Scroll down a bit to see the artist list on the left hand side of the page. Much of the content is available only in the rss feed (you need a reader to open this) here.

some highlights: decemberists, mirah, tom waits, josh ritter, neko case, fleet foxes, spoon, bishop allen, apples in stereo, ben gibbard, polyphonic spree, emily haines, spiritualized, cat power, mogwai, lou reed, of montreal, laura veirs/colin meloy, white stripes, yeah yeah yeahs, yo la tengo and wilco, to name a few.