Articulating Insanity and Uncertainty: A Review of The Decemberists' I’ll Be Your Girl

Through Colin Meloy’s lyricism and word choice, The Decemberists dropped an album doused in anger and cynicism carefully disguised by humor. After three long years perfecting this album, “I’ll Be Your Girl” was released in March 2018.

According to Andrew Trendell’s interview with The Decemberists, Meloy revels in the chance todecemberists album covercelebrate the absurdity” of life under President Donald Trump. It’s no secret that our nation continues to divide. Meloy expressed his own frustrations and concerns about the way democracy is being presented on television and the media.

Evaluating “I’ll Be Your Girl” as a political commentary, one question arises; should all of the songs on this album be viewed with that same perspective, or only a select few? Personally, I like to separate works from their creators, but if the creator outright states that there was no political commentary in a particular song, there probably was not anything intentionally political in that piece.

Overall, the album is great. With beautiful synth, guitar, and vocal support, it’s an album filled with intense emotions and a powerful voice. Meloy is careful to make this album humorous and lighthearted, giving a warped perception of “awful things”. Everything is awful, but the satirical nature of this album is easy to digest with its sanguine tone. Overall, I could listen to most of the album comfortably and I enjoy the beautiful, obscure lyrics, I give it an 8/10.

More synth-supported sounds and eerily cheerful instrumentals are found on the songs “We All Die Young” and “Everything is Awful”. These frustrations continue to be expressed in a positive light through cheerful excitement of their demise. Something that “We All Die Young”, “Everything is Awful”, and “Once In My Life” all have in common is the choir of children singing in the background. It is equally haunting and beautiful. Speaking of haunting, “Your Ghost” fits that category as well with its vivid lyrics and just as beautiful, spooky background vocals.

The single “I’ll Be Your Girl” is folk-inspired and challenges gender with lyrics switching between “I’ll be your girl” or “I could be your man”.

“Rusalka, Rusalka/ Wild Rushes” is historically one of the most interesting songs on the album. This story structurally appears as two stories, the first being Rusalka. This single was not quite the cheeky love story of mermaid and human one tends to expect in mythological-based retellings of superhuman creatures. The Rusalka, the Slavic equivalent of a Greek water naiad combined with siren, is a water sprite with hatred towards humanity. Linda J. Ivanits’ Russian Folk Belief (1989) described a Rusalka as “the soul of a drowned maiden or unbaptized child” (p. 76).

The tale of mythical Rusalki becomes the story of vengeance against the unwronged, a victim in that victimizes others, a cycle of victims becoming perpetrators and continuing to drown innocents and create more Rusalki. In evaluating Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes”, a figure that appears to be another Rusalka or an embodiment of sin drowns the narrator in this single after his negligence to listen

In referencing water, “Sucker’s Prayer” plays with the theme of water washing away sin, the weight of the world, and societal perceptions of love. That is love defined in all forms, beyond romance. It is the intimacy, it’s the platonic and familial. The idea of the rocks being waded away by the river paints a hopeful picture of the world refusing to give up on the protagonist and the power of venting through a sucker’s prayer.

“Starwatcher” appears to have some mythological grounding with Skywatcher and Starwatcher being personified ideas, perhaps enemies. Perhaps these two are enemies only in their opposing realities. These personified “gods” are then paralleled with humanity and the lust for war experienced by individuals. This is a great example of why not every song on this album is political. Skywatcher and Starwatcher are more personal and relatable compared to the only people mentioned in the single.

“Tripping Along” is a song I hate to dislike. Although it received an extended version on The Decemberist’s EP, “Traveling On”, it just doesn’t come off strong. The lyrics are a bit uncomfortable with the words “tripping” and “sticky”. Despite the other gorgeous lyrics, I don’t find it catchy and it’s safe to say it’s one of the weaker songs on the album.

My personal favorites on this album would have to be “Cutting Stone” and “Severed”. I admire the obscure lyrics and techno beats in “Severed”, and I love “Cutting Stone” with its dark yet whimsically nostalgic moments. “Cutting Stone” starts with a dream of wielding a cutting stone yet ends in betrayal of the one constant in the single: the cutting stone. The narrator cuts the stone in two and continues to comfort and lie to the stone: “Cutting stone, oh fear me none…I’ll always have my cutting stone”.

Since the release of the album “I’ll Be Your Girl”, The Decemberists have also dropped an EP titled “Traveling On”, which features outtakes from their preceding album.

Byline: Katelynn Bartholomew

Katelynn Bartholomew, a senior communication major at Southeastern Louisiana University, is a talented sound designer, regularly partnering with Southeastern's theater department. Passionate about music and performance, KSLU is proud to have Katelynn as the morning drive host from 7am-9am. Catch her on-air every weekday on 90.9 FM!