Is "The Hazards of Love" too pretentious?

You know Hazards of Love, the new album recently released by Portland's The Decemberists, right? The concept album The Crane Wife only hinted at, featuring an overarching story of love and demons and singing zombie-children? With developing melodic themes that intertwine and build until a wonderful conclusion where they all come together? Yes, that album.

Slate took some pot-shots at the album recently (here), listing out the 8 most pretentious lines from it. Author Jody Rosen writes, "The whimsy is suffocating, and the reams of verse seem designed mostly to demonstrate book-learning and to flatter an audience of current and former English majors—listeners who like their pop songs 'literate.'"

I beg to differ. The first 4 or 5 times I listened the album, I paid the lyrics absolutely, positively no heed whatsoever. I do this with most albums--not because of some choice but because I simply can't understand people when they're singing. It's a problem. But this makes me attach myself to the sound of the lyrics and, more importantly, the actual music. And I was immediately drawn into The Hazards of Love. Not because the literary references and intricate storylines made my "pretentious," college-educated heart go a-twitter, but because it's simply good damn music. Maybe if one focused more on the actual music, the at-times high-brow lyrics wouldn't irritate so much.

In a larger-picture argument, I was say the artist's intentions are completely and utterly irrelevant once the song becomes an mp3 on your computer or iPod, or once it starts playing in your CD player or on your turntable. What matters is what's playing. Even if Colin Meloy meant to impress you with his knowledge of "medievalist gobbledygook," so what? If it doesn't have an effect on you, or if it passes you by without you noticing, it doesn't matter. If The Decemberists meant to "puzzle" listeners with confusing lyrical "runes," but listeners (like myself) end up just liking the music for what it is, the "runes" don't matter. That's my two cents at least.

As an aside: why are we attacking bands like The Decemberists and Andrew Bird for adding too much depth or challenging listeners with lyrical puzzles and multisyllabic words? As I recall, I turned to the underground and independent music scene because of the lack of intelligence and original thought in the popular music scene. Let's not throw out records just for having too much depth when many other artists can't even spell "depth" much less add it to their work.

Argue with me in the comment section.

Listen to The Hazards of Love on our New Music, Chamber Pop and Portland channels.