What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, whose title was inspired by President Obama's speech following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, explores themes of disenchantment, parenthood, sexuality and nostalgia, all with the Decemberists' signature musicality and twang-y strings. With help from longtime producer Tucker Martine, Meloy and co. perform a collection of songs that range from the wistful harmonious storytelling of "Till the Water Is All Gone" to the jaunty, banjo-riddled "Better Not Wake the Baby" without ever skipping a beat.
It's hard to find any faults with the album — the arrangements are tight, the instrumentation impeccable — but What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World doesn't necessarily make for an arresting listen. Still, it's an undeniably pleasant and well-rounded project that will be sure to keep fans happy and stadiums filled; just don't expect to become a new fan if you weren't one already. (Capitol)