Over the last five years, the Decemberists have proven to be one of the few rock acts to produce music on a consistently high level; their first three full-length albums – Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty the Decemberists, and Picaresque – were all classics in their own right. The Crane Wife, the band’s latest effort, will serve as the Decemberist’s major label debut, and longtime elitist indie-rock fans are, of course, up in arms, fearful that corporate pressure has turned their favorite band into the next great sellout.
But although the Decemberists have changed labels, their sound has stayed the same, and The Crane Wife exhibits even more creativity than their prior albums. “The Island/Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning,” The Crane Wife’s second song, clocks in at a whopping 12:38, their longest song to date.
Broken up into four different movements, “The Island…” marks the Decemberists’ first true foray into prog-rock, and the result is an overwhelming success. The song employs heavy guitar riffs and fast-paced organ playing until it finally culminates into a beautiful finger-picked ending. It is surprising to see the Decemberists make such a bold move on their first major label release.
The Decemberists have always been quirky, especially in regards to lyrics. For some reason, they can get away with writing songs about anything and everything, from pirate raids to high-school sports. Frontman Colin Meloy’s witty wordplay continues to impress on The Crane Wife, as it showcases some of his best-written songs yet.
“Yankee Bayonet” features Meloy singing a duet with singer-songwriter Laura Veirs about the Civil War; “The Shankill Butchers” proves to be one of the Decemberists’ creepiest songs to date; and “The Perfect Crime 2” boasts a pretty funky organ arrangement unlike anything the Decemberists have done before.
But the album reaches its highest points on “O Valencia” and “Summersong.” Oddly enough, these two numbers sound the most like the band’s earlier work, even as far back as their Castaway and Cutouts material.
Both songs successfully intertwine story-driven lyrics and a soaring melody, resulting in two of the Decemberists’ greatest songs to date.
Overall, the Decemberists have grown a lot since their first release. They are clearly one of the most entertaining acts in contemporary music, and The Crane Wife makes them that much more interesting. It is rare to see a band move to a major label and continue to show growth and creativity, but with The Crane Wife, the Decemberists have managed to pull that off.