Inspired by Anne Briggs’ 1966 EP of the same name, Hazards of Love was originally intended to be a musical, but frontman Colin Meloy opted to go for a rock album. I, personally, think it would make a killer musical, but what do I know?
Guests on this album include Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark as Margaret, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden as The Queen, with the Decemberists own Colin Meloy as both William and The Rake.
The album begins with the tale of Margaret, a royal concubine who ventures into the wilderness on horseback, as she often does. Margaret comes upon an injured fawn, and despite the impending dawn, dismounts to aide it. Upon closer inspection, Margaret finds that the fawn in not actually a fawn, but shape-shifting William. Apparently it’s love at first sight, because before we know it, they’re shagging like bunnies.
Margaret returns to the castle all swoony and glowing from the escapade and wouldn’t you know it? She’s knocked up. So Margaret decides to return to the taiga to find her baby daddy. So eventually does, more shagging ensues, then bam, enter The Evil Queen.
Apparently many moons before, The Queen had rescued infant William from the rushing waters of the Annan thus becoming a sort of adopted mother to him. William has the unfortunate curse of only being able to be a man at night. In the day, he is restricted to his fawn form. So needless to say, The Queen goes batshit over this illicit affair and tells William that he can no longer go out at night, rendering him unable to continue shagging Margaret. Unless she’s into bestiality. So William begs The Queen to let him out for one more night. He even tells her that if she lets him go for one night, that he will return by dawn and be hers forever. The Queen lets him go, but only because she has other, more sinister intentions.
The Evil Queen hires The Rake to kidnap Margaret. Since this trollop has tempted her child, she tells the Rake to kidnap her, and in return, The Queen will get him across the wild waters of the Annan, an impossible feat.
Enter: The Rake! Ooooh, such a vile man. A little backstory on the Rake: The Rake was once “wedded and it whetted his thirst”. AKA, he got married, shagged a bunch, and really enjoyed it. The downside to shagging a lot? Babies. He and his wife had three, but said wife died in childbirth with number four. So, burdened with three children and no wife to shag, he kills the children. He poisons Charlotte, drowns Dawn, and even though the little boy fights back, The Rake kills him and sets his body on fire.
So The Rake kidnaps Margaret, William discovers this and follows the trail, leading him to the Annan. He begs the river to let him cross and to rescue Margaret, telling the river that she may take him upon his return.
In one of the more haunting tracks on the album, “The Hazards of Love Three: Revenge!”, The Rake becomes haunted by the voice of his murdered children. In comes valiant William who kills The Rake in his time of vulnerability and rescues Margaret.
The Tragic Ending:
William and Margaret make it back to the Annan, but the river is ready to collect her debt. While the rushing and rising waters attempt to take William, he proposes to her, with only the waves as their witnesses. In their last moments, they profess their love for each other and willingly give themselves to the river. The poor lovers sink below and thus become entwined, sharing eternity at the bottom of the Annan.
On this album, you will find no catchy chorus. You will find no bridges or hooks. You will find an incredibly romantic tale of a forbidden and cursed love. This album is amazing. I have heard of The Decemberists on many occasions, but only recently began listening to them. I honestly don’t know what took me so long. This album has absolutely nothing in common with any of their previous albums, and I doubt it will with any of their future efforts. It’s something all it’s own and it’s simply beautiful.
Musically, I find this to be quite a step for The Decemberists. This is not your average folk album. It’s filled with heavy guitar and snarling vocals and vulnerability and pain and sacrifice. “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing” is a guitar-heavy track with the throaty, plotting vocals of Shara Worden. God, I love her voice. Mental note: check out My Brightest Diamond sometime. “The Rake’s Song” finds normally calm Meloy snarling and becoming a murderous, adulterous wretch of a man. Such a powerful transformation!
While I love Castaways and Cutouts, I love this album, perhaps even more, but for different reasons.
Actually, I had a conversation this weekend about modern cinema. About how when movies first began, they took all the time in the world to develop characters and the relationships between them. Now, the average person’s attention span for that is far too short, and senses overloaded by so much, that the scenes have to change more frequently and we lose that connection. This album is everything a story should be, in the span of an hour.
For once, I think I am speechless. Just go listen to it. A