The Decemberists: Always the Bridesmaid, Volumes 1-3 

On October 19, Portland, Ore., indie-rock band the Decemberists released the first of their three volume singles series, Always the Bridesmaid. The collection will come out on vinyl over the next two months, but if you can't wait that long, the whole project already leaked onto the Internet weeks ago. When Colin Meloy writes a song, he takes on the persona of a character from a folk story or historical era—confederate soldiers, crane wives, barrow boys, suicidal lovers. This in itself isn't all that remarkable, but what distinguishes Meloy's approach is the unblinking earnestness with which he tells a story from the character's perspective. When it works, we empathize and see a bizarre filter for looking at modern life. Since Meloy signed the band to Capitol Records in 2005, the Decemberists quickly made their way from relative obscurity to dominate Starbucks playlists. And for good reason—The Crane Wife, their 2006 release, took Meloy's signature approach to songwriting and moved it to a new level. The songs had a boldness in experimentation that made the album edgier than their previous work. Now on Always the Bridesmaid, Meloy is content to follow format. None of the songs stand out as all that remarkable. "I'm Sticking With You," a piano duet on the second volume, is downright obnoxious. While this lack of edginess is forgivable, the lethargic writing is not. The songs come across as though with a little extra effort and creativity, this project could have said something new instead of recycling older ideas. The three vinyls will be a good addition to the record collection of devout fans willing to overlook the flaws, otherwise wait until April 2009 for the next album.

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