The Rake’s Song

In anticipation of their album (called “Hazards Of Love,” it’s set to be released in March), the Decemberists have released a single called “The Rake’s Song.” I talked about this in August when YANP had it as a live track, but it’s worth revisiting. And now, so that I can justify the title of this blog, a short digression.

To be perfectly honest, the man in the song is more likely to be a cad than a rake. Rakes were feckless gamers and immoral seducers, but they had a glamour attached to them. They were the bad boys of the Restoration/Georgian periods and still could be received — that is, they were still accepted in polite society — even though the marriagable daughters were steered in the other direction as soon as the rake entered the room. Rakes were also usually gentlemen and unlikely to be as murderous as the fellow in this song (even though there is a class of rake called the “vicious rake” who might abuse his family). A cad, on the other hand … a cad is a cold-blooded devil. A cad might leave a poor widow in debt and run off to sea. He might take a second look at his wife and children and decide that they hamper his lifestyle.

… But “rake” does sound a lot better, no? Semantics, they matter! Wikipedia, ever helpful, informs me that “rake” comes from the word “rakehell,” which either came from Old Norse reikall, meaning vagabond, or Dutch rekel, meaning scoundrel. An old and proud tradition there. Cad, schmad.

It’s the percussion that once again makes such a great difference in this song (it did the same for “O Valencia,” which just doesn’t sound as good without the drum line). That, and the chilling sincerity in Meloy’s voice, and the backing singers chiming in like a chorus of wailing ghosts.

The Decemberists — Site | Myspace | Label (Capitol)

The Decemberists — The Rake’s Song


1 comment

  1. john’s avatar

    He seems to turn from a Rake into a Cad, coming to see his “family” as a hamper.

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