- The Decemberists' third full-length release takes the fanciful lyrical subjects and defiantly non-rock musical tendencies of CASTAWAYS AND CUT-OUTS and HER MAJESTY THE DECEMBERISTS and infuses them with the more muscular and electric sound of the 2003 mini-concept album, THE TAIN. The combination provides singer/songwriter Colin Meloy and crew with their first true masterpiece, an album that not only fulfills, but exceeds, the promise of their earlier records.
- Meloy's pet obsessions with historical romance and the sea get their due, culminating in the nearly nine-minute suite "The Mariner's Revenge Song," but he also examines more real-world topics in the Morrissey-like portrait of runaway teenage hustlers "On the Bus Mall" and the embittered social commentary of "16 Military Wives." The true highlights, however, are the sarcastically jaunty Kinks-like shuffle "The Sporting Life," a first-person tale of dishonor on the playing fields set to the record's most insidiously catchy tune, and the churning opener, "The Infanta," where Meloy's linguistic over-achievements mesh surprisingly well with Chris Walla's assertive, harder-edged production.
Rolling Stone (p.77) - 3.5 stars out of 5 - "[A] triumph of theatrical imagination: the culmination of the Decemberists' steady march to greatness in four years of enriched storytelling and folk-rock invention..."
Spin (p.61) - Ranked #30 in Spin's "40 Best Albums Of 2005"
Spin (p.101) - "The sharp voiced Portland punk-folk troubadour's music is rife with tales of Victorian seafarers and waifish ghosts." - Grade: B+
Entertainment Weekly (No. 812, p.71) - "Colin Meloy is so darn brilliant....the music [and lyrics are] equally eclectic..." - Grade: A-
Uncut (p.116) - 3 stars out of 5 - "PICARESQUE cuts deeper and sharper than previous Decembrists efforts."
Alternative Press (p.116) - 5 out of 5 - "[With] a wit so bizarre and vaudevillian beauty so ultimately endearing that by the end, Meloy's sprawling form of theatrical folk has us all..."
Magnet (p.52) - Ranked #13 in Magnet's "The 20 Best Albums Of 2005" - "[With] accordion, Smiths-like guitar and haunting, pitch-perfect moods."
Magnet (p.95) - "PICARESQUE glows with it-band imminence....Whether part of the Walla-of-sound production or in reaction to it, Meloy's voice is louder here."