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The Decemberists - The Crane Wife CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.99 | 161 ratings

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4 stars The Crane Wife essentially consists of three parts: the trio of The Crane Wife Songs, the trio of The Island songs, and the rest.

The rest consists of a number of individual songs that do not seem to be related in any particular manner, unless we look at them as embodying some sort of history of rock, for many of them seem to have the sound of a particular band or period as a basis. For example, The Perfect Crime has a bit of a Talking Heads/New Wave vibe about it; similarly When the War Came bears a distinct resemblance to Physical Graffiti-era Led Zeppelin; and Shankill Butchers would fit right in on a Kinks album, circa 1970. The real gem of this group of songs is Summersong, with its jaunty (did I just use that word?) accordion-driven melody line, its Beatle-esque backing vocals, and its incomparable lyrics, which provide a perfect account of one last summer's day at the shore.

I'm still trying to understand why The Crane Wife trio of songs appears in disjointed order on the album; however, the story is not diminished because of this. I'm not aware of the source story, but I'd wager heavily, maybe even bet the rent, that it goes something like this: guy finds wounded crane, heals said crane, falls in love with said crane, keeps her in captivity, and said crane being a wild thing, dies. Guy is remorseful. Typical Meloy outcome, and for those of us who've been in a few relationships over the years, typical outcome, minus the death. Those free spirits -- once captured -- just fly away and one never sees them again. "And I will hang my head low..."

The first of the trio starts pleasantly enough, a little folksy number, The Crane Wife 3. "Boughs unbowed," sings Colin. Nice little rhyme, maybe a little pretentious, maybe a little precious, but effective and affective to the heart. Typical Meloy.

The Crane Wife 1 begins with an engaging acoustic guitar riff and builds from that point. A few strings, a little Hammond. "It was a white crane." Now we add some drums, a little bass. The song builds steadily as the wounded crane is discovered, until it molts into a full- blown romp. There's not really anything particularly musically challenging here; emotionally, the music ramps up with the story, that little Hammond becomes a swirl of arpeggios, we get a few (muted) electric guitar power chords, and bass and drums are operating in full rock mode. As the song ends, major becomes minor, accents become disjointed.

The Crane Wife 2 provides another acoustic take on the first track, albeit with a bit of that damned pedal steel to tug at the heartstrings, and yes it's here we learn of that crane's true fate: "there is blood in the thread." The song becomes almost anthemic as Meloy repeats "heart". Which is what this album is all about.

The Island. At the outset, the song is a mid-tempo rocker, a bit noisy with great huffing and keening noises, and I have no idea what those noises are, which of course intrigues my ears all the further. Following a brief acoustic respite, the beat becomes incessant and driving. Come and See. Last musician I heard say that was Arthur Brown. The guitars turn electric and ring or peal in a rumbling landscape. Hammond organ washes color the atmosphere, before transitioning to a batch of arpeggios, which mark the onset of The Landlord's Daughter, a romping piece of music which is nothing less than the indie bastard offspring of progressive rock as it was once practiced and celebrated, back in the early 70's. Frankly, I did not know any contemporary band was capable of making this type of music, in this age. Hats off to the Decemberists. If you ever wonder what happened to ELP and Tull, look nor listen no further. It's all here, in spades, just in these few minutes. Following another flurry of dual Hammond and guitar melodic lines, we are back to a more acoustic soundscape of You'll Not Feel The Drowning, with its string quartet, its end-of-time lyrics.

The album ends with Sons & Daughters, an anthem of sorts, upbeat musically, Utopian lyrically, which I am unable to decide to take as is or ironically.

When this band is hitting on all cylinders, which occurs frequently on this album, I say you'll not hear better. And as you are swallowed by a wave, you'll not even feel the drowning. Guaranteed.

jammun | 4/5 |


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