The Crane Wife
First, I’m going to concede all points. Yes, the Decemberists make music for nerds. Yes, they’ve been overhyped this year. Yes, they have a schtick. Yes, Colin Meloy does sing out of the side of his mouth. All right? Moving on. I’ll grant that the music isn’t for everyone, but it has excellent qualities that still put it head and shoulders above the pack.
Second, let’s note the problems. The album is supposed to have a theme, but it isn’t executed very well. The crane wife sections are put in backwards (which is fine) and slapped in randomly with the Civil War songs, sea chanties, murder ballads, etc (not fine). On previous albums, since they weren’t trying for a theme per se, the random mix of songs was great. On this one, the crane wife story, such as it is, gets subsumed by the (shorter, better) other songs.
I know Meloy talked in most of his interviews about trying to buck the “major label” label by recording longer songs, not just those pop-friendly four minute dealies. Two problems with that — first, what’s wrong with pop-friendly four minute dealies? Secondly, trying too hard results in songs like the literally (but badly) titled “The Island/Come And See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning.” If this tripartite monster had been separated, then the listener would have been able to have a great nautically flavored 70s rock takeoff (”The Island/Come and See”), a Jethro Tull murder ballad (”The Landlord’s Daughter”), and a rough sailor’s lullabye (”You’ll Not Feel…”). And 12 tracks instead of 10 (don’t even get me started on some great songs that were left off the album and made into “bonus tracks,” either).
So thirdly, let’s put all that aside and let’s consider the songs that meet and match the gold standard that Meloy has executed since “Her Majesty…”. Consider “O Valencia,” so overplayed because people love a duel with pistols at dawn, girls getting shot by mistake, and a brokenhearted lover vowing to burn the city down. Or Laura Veirs’s smooth duet on “Yankee Bayonet,” and classic lines like But you are in the ground / with the wolves and the weevils all achew on your bones so dry. And my absolute favorite line from “Sons and Daughters”: we’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon. I interpret “Sons and Daughters” as an emigration song, and those six words subtly encapsulate all emigrants’ hopes for luxury and wealth. Some of these songs approach sheer perfection, and more than make up for any picky flaws. Congratulations to the Decemberists — they’ve done it again.
Tags: the decemberists