Picaresque - The Decemberists

Universal acclaim - based on 32 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 29 out of 32
  2. Negative: 1 out of 32
  1. For fans of chiming, literate, lovelorn pop, Picaresque is an absolute treasure trove.
  2. It's hard to imagine The Decemberists topping such a fantastic and ambitious record, but as their previous albums show, I'm sure they'll have no problem one-upping themselves again.
  3. [Meloy's] lyrics skip across history... and overflow with mellifluous rhymes. [25 Mar 2005, p.71]
  4. The group had a lot of hype to live up to and they nearly managed to do it. [#9]
  5. While Picaresque is a significant step forward, it’s also a logical one. The band’s sonic palette has expanded gradually from album to album, and appears to have come full circle here.
  6. It’s amazing to see how the Decemberists have grown. The songs from their first EP, 5 Songs, seem like a man and an acoustic guitar, where Picaresque feels like a full blown orchestra.
  7. The more realized updates of [Her Majesty] that crowd out the backed of Picaresque reveal a wit so bizarre and vaudevillian beauty so ultimately endearing that by the end, Meloy's sprawling form of theatrical folk has us all. [Apr 2005, p.116]
  8. Picaresque features some of Meloy’s most assured songwriting... What makes Picaresque a great album, however, is the snug synthesis between the rest of the bandmates playing in relation to Meloy’s verbose lyrics.
  9. This is The Decemberists' strongest release to date, and proves that the group's unique thesaurus-rock has a bright future.
  10. "Picaresque" is by far the Decemberists' best work to date.
  11. The effect is one of musical theater.
  12. 84
    The tunes are almost more like short stage scenes than mere songs about people, but the band does well to prevent them from coming off as cheesy allegories so that even the illiterate boors out there can enjoy their downright pretty moments. [#15, p.101]
  13. In developing into such a formidable flock, the Decemberists not only have far outstripped those ridiculous comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel that dogged Her Majesty, but have also allowed Meloy to widen his lyrical scope and hone his ambitious narratives.
  14. 83
    Though [Meloy] rarely cracks a smile, he finds creativity in defeat. [Apr 2005, p.101]
  15. “I am a writer, writer of fictions,” Meloy claims on “Engine Driver,” and that’s exactly what he does, but it’s what everyone else does too, the only real difference being Meloy hits the thesaurus and maritime literature a bit harder than most.
  16. 80
    Gleams with emotion. [Apr 2005, p.113]
  17. While the music is as delicious and diverse as ever, the Decemberists' meal ticket is Meloy's unmatched lyrical prowess, which borders at times on mod-Shakespearean.
  18. While Picaresque follows its predecessor's -- the treacly Her Majesty -- predilection for seafaring and mythology, its boot-covered feet are more firmly planted in the present, resulting in the group's most accessible -- and decidedly upbeat -- product to date.
  19. Picaresque is more than an indie-pop album, it's a collection of eleven lavishly arranged acts rife with the whiff of greasepaint and the roar of an adoring crowd, which you should be a part of.
  20. The Decemberists’ first two records—Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty (both in 2003)—felt a touch spotty.... Picaresque trumps them both by dint of its focus, consistency and restraint.
  21. Another accomplished, cohesive effort that finds the group continuing to tweak without significantly changing its sound.
  22. Picaresque is dense and complicated, but only rarely threatens to tip under its own weight.
  23. Sounds brighter and deeper than anything The Decemberists previously attempted.
  24. Where 2003's Her Majesty the Decemberists unfurled tales of royalty, and debut Castaways and Cutouts talked of the sea, Picaresque drafts a whole new cast of characters just as colorful.
  25. 70
    Cuts deeper and sharper than previous Decemberists efforts. [Sep 2005, p.116]
  26. 70
    This is XTC times Elvis Costello plus the finest moments from the Americana greats and then some. [Apr 2005, p.108]
  27. Picaresque is a triumph of theatrical imagination: the culmination of the Decemberists' steady march to greatness in four years of enriched storytelling and folk-rock invention.
  28. 70
    The album refines rather than revamps the Decemberists' approach; it's the brightest panel of a triptych, not a new exhibit. [#67, p.95]
  29. At times The Decemberists sail close to being an horrific hybrid of They Might Be Giants and The Coral - all arched eyebrows and accordions.
  30. Resembles the Arcade Fire if they were from the Renaissance era and rubbish. [23 Jul 2005, p.50]
  31. Over rudimentary, skiffle-derived hooks, a kitchen-sink orchestra creates an aura of portent. Then in steps Meloy, doping up the whole affair with empty melancholy until it has to breathe through a tube, wailing big words in a forced accent that conveys despair but fails to signify its cause, fails to signify anything.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 113 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 53 out of 59
  2. Negative: 4 out of 59
  1. Dec 15, 2012
    Great album with several really good songs my favorites being 16 Military Wives and The Infanta. Both of which have excellent lyrics and instrumentation. This album also has a variety of sounds on it so you won't be bored and most of songs have a great story if you really listen to them especially The Mariner's Revenge Song. Well worth the money! Full Review »
  2. Dec 21, 2011
    One of the best Decemberists albums. They pick up from the more melodic previous two albums with the rocking opener "The Infanta" and it doesn't slow down from there. From that point we get some awesome tracks like the anthemic "We Both Go Down Together", the quirky "Sporting Life", the trumpet-coated "16 Military Wives", the groovy "Engine Driver", and the engaging sea shanty "Mariner's Revenge Song", which is also quite possibly the best song on the album. No matter what genre you're into, if you want to check out a truly remarkable album, "Picaresque" won't disappoint or bore you for a second. Full Review »
  3. Nov 15, 2011
    My favourite songs on the album are: 1) The Mariner's Revenge Song 2) The Engine Driver and 3) The Infanta 4) We Both Go Down Together. The Mariner's Revenge Song is in fact one of my most favourite songs of all time, telling an awesome story with a wicked melody. Picaresque is an awesome album. Full Review »