I will probably use the word "gorgeous" many times in this review. So, everyone really liked The Crane Wife, and yeah, it was a really good album. But I'm here to tell you that Hazards of Love is way better. It's advertised as a rock opera about a girl named Margaret. The fact that it's a rock opera as opposed to a set of unrelated songs contributes to its strength. It demands to be listened to as a whole, and it works gorgeously. (Colin Meloy has said that he's playing it from beginning to end on tour this summer... which makes me even more psyched that I'm seeing them at Bonnaroo.)
Each song on Hazards of Love is really strong, but there are a couple of highlights. One is definitely "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid," which features an uplifting bass line below a lovely chorus of wispy female chanting voices... and segues into a White-Stripes-esque guitar riff; in fact, it almost gets bluesy. It's gorgeous. My other favorite is "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing." It moseys along with a steady bass beat and guest vocals by Becky Stark and Shara Warden. This is as intense as I've ever seen the Decemberists.
Even songs that don't seem AS great, like "Isn't It A Lovely Night?", still grow on you. The waltzy quality of that song kind of makes me think of The Magnetic Fields... except, instead of Stephen Merritt complaining about everything in his deep bass voice, it's one of the lovely aforementioned female vocalists lilting along with the accordion and acoustic guitar. And Colin Meloy jumps in too, of course.
Overall, Hazards of Love is really an incredible album, even after only 4 listens. I'd almost believed that I outgrew The Decemberists... Castaways and Cutouts and Picaresque were no longer on my daily shuffle. That's certainly changing: their new album has me all excited about them all over again. Go find yourself a copy and listen.