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Badmovies.org Forum  |  Other Topics  |  Entertainment  |  The Decemberists "The Hazards of Love" Review and Interperetation « previous next »
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Author Topic: The Decemberists "The Hazards of Love" Review and Interperetation  (Read 5281 times)
Fausto
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« on: September 23, 2009, 11:16:06 PM »

A few weeks back, I knew nothing about the Decemberists. I might have passed over mention of them in a copy of Spin or Rolling Stone, I'm sure at some point I brushed over them while hunting through the D section at Best Buy. Another indie band, so what, there are plenty of those.

I stumble onto a mention on a website about The Hazards of Love, a rock opera/concept album by said indie band. Having nothing much to listen to at work, and needing something to keep my mind going through what is mostly a stale and repetitive job, I figure, what the hell.

All I have to say is......Damn.

Everything about this album, for my money, kicks ass. Inspired by the folk rock revival of the 1960's the band utilizes a multitude of sounds, including organs, harmonicas, mandolins, and even electric guitar to incredible effect. It all comes together to service the story, a folktale written by singer/songwriter Colin Meloy that could easily have been found written in the songbook of a scottish bard in the 12th century. Granted, I dont consider myself an expert on music, but I know what I enjoy.

The story is layered and complex enough that future music critics will argue the meaning behind certain verses the way historians continue to scratch their heads over Hamlet's soliloquy. As with all texts, the album can only speak for itself, and the only true "meaning" is that which the audience takes away. That said, I immediately set about trying to decipher as much of the album's plot as I could in order to gain a better appreciation for what I was hearing. What follows is not gospel, merely my interperetation based on the music, lyrics, and fan comments.

Meloy begins his story during the middle ages. The heroine, Margaret, a girl from a noble family, leaves her castle to go horseback riding. She happens to stray too close to an enchanted forest, where she discovers a fawn (as in a young deer, not "faun", or satyr, as many have mistakenly believed). Seeing that the creature is injured, and being "full of charity, and a credit to her sex", decides to help it. As she does so, however, the fawn transforms into a mortal man (<i>The Hazards of Love 1</i>).

 At this point, many have differing views on what happens next. One interperetation holds that the man, William, rapes Margaret and leaves her. The second is that he seduces her, and the two have sex. The third is that they naturally fall in love at first sight. The first is particularly hard to swallow. Granted, it would be understandable to those who had made the faun/fawn mistake, since fauns and satyrs (particularly the greek god Pan) were known for their violent and carefree attitude towards sex. However, besides killing off the romance aspect, Margaret's decision to return to him later on would not make any logical sense. The second or third options are much more likely.

If we assume that Margaret came upon the fawn at sunset, and the transformation occured as a result (as supported later by the Queen's exposition), then the night of passion would end at sunrise, when William turns back into a deer and runs off. The story catches up with Margaret sometime later at the castle. One of fifteen sisters, she is horrified to realize that she is pregnant, a revelation that a nun, her confessor, guesses at, and demands to know the name of the "blaggard" father. Realizing she is now a ruined woman in the eyes of her family, Margaret decides her only option is to seek out William, her one true love, in the forest (<i>A Bower Scene</i>).

She calls upon the trees and plants to help guide her back to William (<i>I Won't Want for Love</i>). The two are finally reunited, and spend the evening together (<i>The Hazards of Love 2/The Queen's Approach</i>). After a bout of lovemaking, they comment on the beauty of their surroundings and the love they have for one another (<i>Isn't it a Lovely Night</i>).

This is a classic example of a "doesent get any better than this" moment which is often a harbinger of doom. In this case, William's adopted mother, the Forest Queen, catches the couple together. Margaret flees. The queen is jealous and wants to keep William for herself, however, he cannot stand to be separated from Margaret (<i>The Wanting Comes in Waves</i>). In desperation, he strikes up a deal: one last night with the love of his life, and he will return to the queen at sunrise and belong to her forever. The Queen agrees (<i>Repaid</i>).

Meanwhile, a greater danger waits for Margaret. We are introduced to the Rake, who describes how he found married life to be acceptible, until his wife produced a trio of unwanted children. After his wife dies while giving birth to a fourth, he kills off the remaining three. The first, poisioned with foxglove, the second, drowned in the bath. The third puts up a fight, but loses and has his body burned for good measure (<i>The Rake's Song</i>). Spying Margaret lost and distressed in the forest, the Rake decides to kidnap and have his way with her. William discovers this and rushes to stop him.

The Rake is cut off by the Annan river, which is too rough for him to cross (<i>The Abduction of Margaret</i>). Then the Forest Queen appears. She introduces herself to the Rake, stating that she is the spirit of the forest itself. She relates how she found William abandoned as an infant in a "clay cradle". Taking pity, she raised him as her own child, giving him the form of a fawn during the day, presumably to hide him from human contact. Recognizing that, by kidnapping Margaret, the Rake is removing a temptation that threatens William, the Queen helps him over the river (<i>The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing</i>). Soon after, Willam arrives. Since he cannot ask the Queen to help him cross, he offers the river his own life on his return. The river decides this is acceptable, and allows him to pass (<i>Annan Water</i>).

The Rake now has Margaret imprisioned within his castle, and threatens her with torture (<i>Margaret in Captivity</i>). William arrives, the two men duel, and William strikes the killing blow. Afterwards, the ghosts of the Rake's dead children appear. Out of vengeance for their own terrible fates, the ghosts drag the Rake's soul to hell (<i>The Hazards of Love 3</i>).

William and Margaret are reunited (<i>The Wanting Comes in Waves Reprise </i>). Knowing they cannot return to either the mortal realm or the forest, the two row a leaking boat out to the middle of the river, to which William keeps his promise, and Margaret joins him. Weighing the boat down with rocks, the two recite marriage vows and embrace as the waves crash over them (<i>The Hazards of Love 4/The Drowned</i>). The unborn child presumably dies as well...unless the now childless queen decides to take pity on it, which would bring the story full circle.

The complete album is available to listen to on youtube, though, if you like what you hear, grab a copy of the CD. Not a penny will be wasted on it, I promise you that.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2009, 11:27:49 PM by Fausto » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2009, 12:48:24 PM »

I've heard lots of good things about the Decemberists, one of those bands I keep meaning to check out in more depth.  I'll get to them, assuming I live long enough.  Wink       
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2009, 09:04:43 PM »

The only Decemberists album I have is 2005's Picaresque. It is pretty good, I listen to it about once a month or so. Thanks for the review Fasuto, I'll have to check out this new one.
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« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2011, 06:55:15 PM »

Totally agree on the album and the Decemberists - they are fantastic.  Thanks for deciphering the words - I wasn't capable of putting in the work!  Particularly pleased with the explanation of The Rake - couldn't figure that one out!


Seeing them for the first time live at Prospect Park in June.  Can't wait!
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