At this point, there is probably no way Colin Meloy can pull off singing a cheery song with a straight face.
Oh, he’s good at tunes of empowerment, as in the final moments of his last album with The Decemberists, 2015’s “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World,” where the curiously titled closing anthem “A Beginning Song” shines within an attractive, summery ambiance and a sense of blooming hope.
The same can be said of the finale/title tune to the new “I’ll Be Your Girl,” where an offering of machismo comfort seems to knowingly fall short (“I could be your man, but I’d be much more”) as the tune fades in a wash of Beach Boys cool and Roxy Music ambiance.
But, man alive, are there ever rough seas to navigate before you get to that sunny finish line. That’s not to say “I’ll Be Your Girl” is a rough listen. It’s anything but. Meloy and company luxuriate in musical settings bathed in 1970s and ’80s pop, as in the Simple Minds-minded synths that guide the opening “Once in My Life.” Those colors help uphold the tune’s mantra-like chorus of uneasy conviction (“For once in my life, could just something go right?”) that rises out of a folk-pop guitar breeze and Meloy’s clarion call singing to introduce the album. Such a design continues through “Cutting Stone” as waves of synth a la New Order underscore a story of murderous wanderlust (“I’m going to smother you all until I choke you”). Then there’s “Severed,” where mock savior sentiments mirror today’s delusional raves of a certain head of state (“I alone am the answer, I alone will make wrongs right”) amid percolating electronics that recall early ’80s Devo.
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So, as The Decemberists take hold on “I’ll Be Your Girl,” the feeling isn’t so much that misery loves company, but that misery is the company. It’s just that Meloy and crew find myriad backdrops to create a scholarly pop affair without losing its very profound sense of drama and isolation.
Sometimes the balance is more studied, as in “Starwatcher” and its percussion-propelled melody that brings to mind the debauched “Rake Song” from 2009’s “The Hazards of Love” to the Kurt Weill-ian rumbles of “Your Ghost” with its blend of guitar twang and nightmarish la-la-la chorus.
Then there are times where The Decemberists turn the album into a full fledged doomsday party, as with the Gilbert & Sullivan-style slant of “Everything is Awful” (“What’s that crashing sound, follows us around? That’s the sound of all things good breaking”) or the pep rally chants of “We All Die Young” that sound like vintage T. Tex on a serious bender.
It may be the end of the world as the Decemberists know it, but “I’ll Be Your Girl” insures that we’ll all go down rocking.