A solid and interesting, but ultimately inessential bookend that collects the odds and ends from the band's recording sessions for The King Is Dead.
The Decemberists' Long Live the King EP comes along roughly 10 months after its last album, The King Is Dead. As you can surmise from the title, the six songs included here are all outtakes and B-sides from the The King Is Dead recording sessions. This is the sort of release that can be really appealing to a band's biggest fans, the completists who want absolutely everything a group puts out. For everyone else, though, Long Live the King is inessential.
It's not that the music on the EP is bad. Decemberists' frontman Colin Meloy is too strong a songwriter for the band to put out something terrible. Most of the stuff here is pretty good, but none of it is great, and Long Live the King has the effect of confirming that the band made all the right choices when putting together The King Is Dead. The best song here is "Foregone", an easygoing country rocker featuring some really nice pedal steel guitar work from Chris Funk. The track is very much in keeping with the roots-rock vibe the band cultivated on the album proper, but it's still weaker than any of the album's similar mid-tempo tracks.
The EP opens with "E. Watson", a minor-key story song dominated by Meloy's vocals and a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment. The song is classic Decemberists, with a folk song feeling and a story set in the 19th century. Laura Viers and Annalisa Tornfelt add some nice harmonies to the song's second half, but overall it pales in comparison to past Decemberists folky story songs. "Burying Davy" almost feels like a darker retread of "E. Watson". Both songs discuss the burial of an acquaintance, but "E. Watson" has a sense of regret for poor, misguided Edgar, while "Burying Davy" has a tone of nasty inevitably to it. That tone is established not just by Meloy's lyrics, which include "Mother wept no tears / At burying Davy", but also by the arrangement. Jenny Conlee's organ sound has a mournful quality to it, but it's Chris Funk's angry, bluesy distorted guitar solo, which runs in the background through the entire song, that gives the track its nastiness. This makes for an interesting song sonically, but it lacks the melody or strong hook needed to really make it great.
After "Davy", the EP goes completely in the opposite direction with "I 4 U & U 4 Me", a pleasantly rolling rootsy song with the happy refrain, "I'm for you and you were made for me." It's a nice change of pace, but it seems pretty slight, like this was sort of a tossed-off idea that never got completely fleshed out. The fact that the version included here is listed as a "home demo" seems to support that idea. Long Live the King ends with "Sonnet", a sort of hybrid track that opens with 90 seconds of Meloy singing and playing guitar and finishes with 90 seconds of New Orleans-style shuffle featuring a trumpet and trombone playing the song's melody.
The only real misstep on the EP is "Row Jimmy", a Grateful Dead cover that makes six minutes and forty-one seconds feel like two hours. Playing a song by the Dead makes sense for the sort of roots-rock feel the band was going for with these sessions, but the Decemberists are not a jam band. We already knew that, but they make it abundantly clear with this meandering, lifeless cover that sucks all the energy out of the room. Still, as an odds and ends collection, Long Live the King is pretty solid. It gives a more full picture of what kinds of ideas that band was working on for The King Is Dead and at times approaches fascinating. It in no way stands on its own, so this EP is, again, mostly for Decemberists completists.