If there is one word to describe The Dear Hunter's concept albums that I've heard most used by first-time listeners, it's "theatrical." And it's hard to deny, especially considering over forty-three minutes of the band's albums are made up of reprises of their previous songs. The band is known for using this musical technique to unite the Acts albums, a series which, when listened to in order, describes the full life and death of a boy (known from here out as "the Boy," though his name is more or less accepted to be Hunter) as he ventures to the City, falls in love, is shipped off to World War I, and returns in the guise of the brother he lost in battle to free the city from the hands of the corrupt Pimp and the Priest. Though some of that comes across through lyrics, a good portion of the story's plot twists and major moments are told through dozens of carefully placed reprises. Out of those forty-three minutes, though, there are a few reprises that stand out.
Warning: This list contains major spoilers for the plot of the Acts albums. If you'd like to figure the story out on your own, enjoy the reprises linked below with your hand covering the paragraphs beneath them.
There were nearly six years between the release of Act IV (2015) and the cliffhanger left behind by Act III (2009), when the Boy left the war and took the identity of the Son with him, so when Act IV was finally released, it needed to open with a bang. The first song in Act IV, "Rebirth," began with the same a capella that kicked off previous albums, was swiftly joined by the band's signature instruments and, eventually, the orchestra that had gone from a small treat in Act I to a key element of the band's music in the last few albums. Once the band's voices dropped out and "Rebirth" became purely orchestral, though, it was clear that this album would be on an entirely different level from the past three acts. The orchestra crescendos into a chaotic reprise of "The Pimp and the Priest" from Act II, fading in and out of the song's quiet, "Sing softly, sing/bring me to the lake" tune and accompanied by the same drums that carry the majority of the villain's introductory song. Since the Acts albums had not returned to the City and the Pimp and the Priest's storyline since the end of Act II, the return of his song as a marker of the return of the Acts and of this story is a fitting and exciting invitation back to the land of the river and the lake.
10. "Father" in "If All Goes Well"
You might want to get your headphones out for this one, because it's a little hard to catch. In "Father," the Boy uses the poison he was given in "The Poison Woman" to kill his father in one of his lowest moments, singing, "I knew that I kept this for a reason." An album later, in "If All Goes Well," the Boy meets a rare high moment and takes power as the city's new mayor, this time singing, "I knew that I did this for a reason." On one hand, the songs pair well together, since the Boy sings the first as he kills the Father and the second as he takes his first steps toward destroying the Pimp & the Priest (the Father, in a religious sense) and his hold on the city. In the other, the reprise carries particularly haunting connotations both in the fact that the original song was surrounded by so much emotional turmoil and the fact that the Boy's belief that he did all of this for a reason is lost in the voices of the City's people, who ask the Boy to "love us all in spite of what we'll do to you," heavily foreshadowing the fact that all is not, in fact, going to go well.
Though the tune of the song is changed, the opening lyrics of "Abandon" mirror "Son" so closely that I often find myself mixing them up. This flashback to the Boy burying his brother and taking his identity appearing the first time that he finds that identity threatened since his return to the City invokes the Son in the moment it is most important his presence be felt and carries a dread that makes the Boy's disguise feel completely transparent. As soft as both songs are, the Pimp and the Priest's brief words with the Boy in "Abandon" feel sour and ominous even before he reveals that he knows the Boy's identity.
This one is shocking mainly because it's completely unexpected. "Mr. Usher" is unique among The Dear Hunter's discography in that no other song has been written in the same style. You wouldn't expect a reprise from their usual work to be adapted to match the swing of "Mr. Usher." Think "King of Swords (Reversed)," a disco track that only includes a reprise once the song is basically over. In "Mr. Usher," the Pimp and the Priest's leitmotif is dropped directly in the middle of the song, suddenly pairing the newly introduced Mr. Usher with the Pimp and the Priest and providing new malice to the already villainous description of Mr. Usher imagined in the first half of the song.
In retrospect, the intro to "Bitter Suite V" isn't all that subtle about who is about to re-enter the story. Upon first listening to Act IV, though, the process of putting together the opening lyrics and hearing the Pimp and the Priest reveal himself through a reprise of the "Hey, kid!" tune from "Bitter Suite 2" directly after a reprise of the Oracles leitmotif is so rewarding, especially after that long wait for the return to the City arc. While I'm personally partial to the reprise in Evicted (simply because of my love for Ms. Leading), this reprise is incredibly well placed. This is also the first time we really get to see the Pimp and the Priest in his role as a priest, and the slight change in the lyrics in "Bitter Suite V" lyrics from "get a job" to "get a god" feels so delightfully wrong that it's impossible not to smile upon first hearing it.
This reprise comes just two songs after the original tune is played, but it remains one of the band's most effective. Where "Mustard Gas" illustrates the horrors of war as the soldiers question how God could allow the pain of WWI's introduction of mustard gas, "He Said He Had a Story" takes a piece of "Mustard Gas" and makes it the basis for the Father's story about raping Ms. Terri. The entirety of "He Said He Had a Story" ends up carrying all of the anger and emotion of "Mustard Gas" as a result, equating the two scenarios and making "He Said He Had a Story" one of the band's most successful villain songs. So successful, in fact, that most fans associate the tune with "He Said He Had a story" rather than "Mustard Gas," and turned straight to the former upon hearing it reprised in "The Most Cursed of Hands."
The sudden transition from the upbeat tone of "A Night on the Town" into a reprise of "Bitter Suite 1," the song that first introduced us to the Acts' leading lady, Ms. Leading, is easily one of the most exciting reprises to stumble upon. You can just picture the Boy noticing her so clearly, and the reprise's abrupt appearance delivers the same shock as that moment likely does for the two of them. With a few piano notes, the band manages to send its audience into the same turmoil of emotions that their main character experiences, and then continues to let those emotions play out until the reprise ends near the end of the song. When "A Night on the Town" was released as a single before Act IV came out, it was no surprise that a good number of fans confessed they'd been brought to tears by the song's final three minutes.
While the nearly hidden reprise of "Where The Road Parts" in "The Flame (Is Gone)" is the first hint that Mr. Usher and the Pimp and the Priest are going after Ms. Leading, the minor reprise of "Melpomene" at the end of the song is truly evil. "Melpomene" is such a sweet, uplifting love song, all gentle hope as the Boy regains some of the optimism of his youth, that hearing it used to convey the presumed death of Ms. Leading feels like a knife in the back. The ancient Greek muse Melpomene transformed from the Muse of Chorus to the Muse of Tragedy over time, though, so the reprise only makes too much sense. Still, I am continually in denial and foolheartedly believe Ms. Leading survives to take down Mr. Usher in the end. Don't try to fight me on this.
3. "The Old Haunt" in "The March"
The entirety of "The March" could be on this list, to be honest, since it manages to fit at least ten reprises into a four minute package and every one kills me. However, though the use of the chorus of "The Old Haunt" as the bridge of "The March" may be the most obvious reprise, it is still one of the song's most poignant. The boy's thoughts in "The Old Haunt" echo his mother's as he re-enters the city knowing the danger that lies there. "The March" takes those thoughts and throws them back in the Boy's face, taunting him with the fact that all of his and his mother's fears have been made a reality as the Pimp and the Priest reveals the Boy's secrets and turns the City against him. (If you were wondering, a few of the other reprises are: "Ouroboros," "Smiling Swine," "The Oracles on the Delphi Express," "Wait," and "King of Swords (Reversed)"/"The Most Cursed of Hands.")
The Oracles' leitmotif is one of the most commonly reprised in the Acts, coming back every time something the Oracles predicted, either in the songs they sing to kick off each album or in the actual song "The Oracles on the Delphi Express," comes true or is set into motion. Consequently, every time the Oracles' leitmotif makes an appearance, it is upsetting, painful, and/or worrisome. Their tune somehow manages to be all of those things as well as completely satisfying the last time it is heard, as the Boy kills the Pimp and the Priest and seals his fate in Act V's penultimate song, "Blood." The Boy's line, "For you, I am a killer," followed directly by this reprise is both triumphant and slightly sorrowful, harkening back to the first time we heard it as the Oracles warned the Boy of his future so that he might take a different path. While the moment should be a release after years of waiting for this conclusion, the reprise ends up feeling like the final nail in the Boy's coffin.
1. "The Moon/Awake" and "The Lake South" in "A Beginning"
I'm sorry, the final track on Act V melds these two together too perfectly and I couldn't choose just one. Back in "What It Means To Be Alone" in Act III, the Oracles warned that the Boy would "die with the moon," so when the tracklist for Act V featured "The Moon" as its second song, fans were understandably concerned. Rather than use that title for the album's finale, though, the album's final track transitions into a reprise of "The Moon" as the Boy dies in "A Beginning" and transitions from that reprise into a reprise of "The Lake South" (a reprise commonly associated with "City Escape," since it appears whenever someone manages to flee the City, whether that be through setting their room on fire, going to war, or dying). Even though there is going to be an Act VI, "A Beginning" closes out the Boy's story on Earth, and the combination of these two songs to create such a bittersweet finale that it's hard not to feel stunned when it kicks into gear in the final two minutes.
The 42 minutes of reprises that exist outside of this list are just as thought out and exciting to spot, from "The Lake and the River" reprise in "The Old Haunt" becoming "Waves" to the sweet piano reprise of "Mustard Gas" at the end of "A Night on the Town," so which reprise gave you chills the first time you heard it?