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The Decemberists - The Crane Wife CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.99 | 161 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The Decemberists' first album for a major label raised their game (and their profile) to a higher level, for better and, at the same time, for worse. The longer compositions were bolder and more ambitious than ever, including "The Island" suite and the likewise three-part title track, the latter oddly but appropriately re-sequenced so that the album actually opens with Part Three...musically, it just worked better that way.

Meanwhile the shorter songs, designed to earn the band as much radio air time as possible, were even more obviously commercial. But at least they were all grouped together in the middle of the album, from the catchy "Yankee Bayonet" through the Dire Straits sound-alike single "The Perfect Crime #2". Part One of the latter song was, perversely, not included on the album, although it deserves to be heard: an atypically macho rocker with a long, bluesy mid-section, in total lasting more than fifteen minutes, further evidence of singer/writer Colin Meloy's expanding musical horizons.

Elsewhere on the album Meloy's quaint, Anglophilic narratives were likewise extended to new territories: Leningrad in 1942 ("When the War Came"); Shakespeare's Tempest (vaguely referenced in "The Island"); and the Japanese folk tale of the title song. And yet the flavor throughout, as illustrated in the CD booklet designed by longtime Decemberist collaborator Carson Ellis, is closer to post-Civil War America. The lovely acoustic ballad "Shankill Butchers" (an album highlight) may have been inspired by an actual mob of (literal) cutthroats in 1970's Ireland, but the antique melody recalls something Bill Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, in the film "Gangs of New York") might have sung while strolling the mean streets of 1860's Manhattan.

In retrospect it's a transitional effort, poised on an unsteady fulcrum between eccentricity and complacence, with the many bright spots far outshining the weaker moments. The band was now a bona fide success story, but in which direction would Meloy turn next? Back to Victorian London, or toward modern pop radio purgatory? Or, just maybe, to somewhere altogether different and unexpected..? You only have to sneak a peek at the ProgArchives ratings to learn the answer...

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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