Two years after releasing one of the best albums of 2006 (The Crane Wife), the Portland, Ore.-based rock group The Decemberists has just returned with three volumes of new songs. Like much of the band's earlier work, Always the Bridesmaid: A Singles Series is full of magically inventive, character-driven story-songs rooted in British folk and pop. The Decemberists showcase the new music, along with old favorites, in a full concert, recorded live from WXPN in Philadelphia.
Part of a tour dubbed "Bridesmaid Revisited," The Decemberists' performance at Philadelphia's Electric Factory is one of a limited number of stops the band is making in select cities through the month of November. The group is currently working on a new full-length CD, due out sometime next year; Tucker Martine, who produced Always the Bridesmaid and co-produced The Crane Wife, returns to the helm for the as-yet-untitled new album.
Always the Bridesmaid: A Singles Series contains seven new songs the band is releasing in three installments, on vinyl and as digital downloads but not as CDs. It's a bouncy, uptempo collection that includes a jaunty cover of the Velvet Underground song "I'm Sticking With You," as well as an oddly infectious song about former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Appropriately titled "Valerie Plame," it's an amorous tribute to the onetime operative, written from the perspective of an inside contact who has just learned her true identity.
Always the Bridesmaid is The Decemberists' second release since moving to a major label. Though some longtime fans feared that the band would lose some of its creative control after making the transition, singer Colin Meloy says that the move has actually made the band better.
"We didn't want the fact that we had signed onto a major label change our approach or aesthetic," he says. "In some ways, I think it pushed us farther to the left; farther out of the comfortable Decemberists zone."
The first two tracks in the singles collection, "Valerie Plame" and "O New England," were released Oct. 14. "Days of Elaine" and "I'm Sticking With You" followed on Nov. 4, and the last two singles, "Record Year" and "Raincoat Song," are due out Dec. 2.