A few years ago, Gus Van Sant re-made Psycho exactly, in a frame-by-frame replication of Hitchcock’s original. This meant that the film was both very good and utterly pointless at the same time. I mention this, because for some reason it was the image that sprang to mind when I first listened to the new (actually debut full-length solo) album from The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy. It’s not a great allusion, to be honest, and it doesn’t really hold up because the songs that Meloy is playing aren’t direct copies of his band’s songs, they’re acoustic versions. But at the same time I think there’s only really one market for Colin Meloy Sings Live, and it’s dedicated Decemberists fans. I enjoyed listening to this album, but as a casual listener, I don’t think it would be one that I’d buy. I’m not sure I see the point.
That said, the stripped down nature of the album shows off Meloy’s fine songwriting in a more pronounced way, and just to show it’s live and he can do what he likes, he slips in elements of other people’s songs (such as Ask by the Smiths) to augment his own, which works quite well. For the fans, there are some exclusives – notably unreleased song Wonder, and props to Colin for not just playing his best songs – he also plays what’s by his admission the worst song he ever wrote – a trite little ditty called Dracula’s Daughter. Less props though for spoiling the set closer (and my favourite Decemberists song) Bandit Queen by a bad attempt at whistling and then apologising for it. Some people may find that charming, for me it’s just annoying.
All in then, a bit of a curiosity. One that true fans will go nuts for, and others like myself will stand idly by, able to enjoy it, but like outsiders at a convention, not really able to enter into the spirit of things.
Download: Colin Meloy – Wonder
Download: Colin Meloy – The Engine Driver
Colin Meloy Sings Live is out on 7 April. You can pre-order it from Rough Trade.