Finally! A UK release for The Decemberists major label debut The Crane Wife. This side of the Atlantic we seem to have missed this one, topping many a Year End list for 2006 in the US, we’ve had to wait till now to get it (officially at least). But it was worth it. Those worrying about the dumbing down of Portland crew needn’t, this is full of the amazingly lyrical and tale filled songs of past, present and maybe even future. Except that now, apart from specialising in sea shanties, they’ve developed their sound with the inclusion of Prog-rock. Hey, come back! For those of you worried about their descent into 70’s Prog-Rock monsters, don’t. What The Decemberists have done is embellished their already formidable musical repertoire with a bit more “sound”. They’ve always been an ambitious band (which is one of the reasons they went to a major label) and it feels as if they’re realising their dream, their reaching and stretching to the goal of their long and hard journey.
The stunning 12 minute The Island: Come and See / The Landlord’s Daughter / You’ll Not Feel The Drowning is the meandering centre piece of the album. It just happens to be the second track. It twitches through each of the three parts, from crunching guitars and floating organ to delicately arranged acoustic guitars, piano and strings. It’s such an ambitious track that really it doesn’t deserve to work, but it does. O Valencia! is an update of the old Romeo & Juliet theme of star-crossed lovers “I’m your brothers sworn enemy”, “your sister gave us away” and rushes through its three minutes so superbly that it deserves to top the singles chart from now until the end of time. The Perfect Crime #2 comes across like some 70’s funk theme tune to a cop show, all slap bass and Hammond organ. A slight change of direction and certainly the most mainstream song they’ve ever written, but a refreshing break. Yankee Bayonet is a beautiful love song featuring Laura Veirs piercing vocals, a Civil War lament that aches with beauty and longing. They don’t get right all the time, however. Shankill Butchers is an attempt to update their usual story song, but it jarrs and feels out of place and is the only track that mis-fires.
All the songs are beautifully lyrical; Colin Meloy’s song writing just seems to get better and better. It might sound like he’s swallowed a dictionary and thesaurus sometimes, but it doesn’t sound false or showy, he’s just translating the massive ideas thats in his head onto paper and into music. Each track is beautifully arranged as well, it’s not just the lyrics that are impressive but the music as well. The mix of instruments and influences work perfectly, all augmenting the songs and turning them into something more. The Crane Wife 1 & 2 is the perfect example, 11 minutes of perfectly meandering music and story-telling. I can’t describe it without doing it an injustice. It’s THAT good.
Whoever said that modern songs don’t mean anything any more need only play this one album to have their faith in music restored.