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The Crane Wife

4.5 out of 5 stars 184 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 3, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Decemberists' album, "The Crane Wife," is thematically based on a tragic Japanese folk tale, but band leader Colin Meloy promises a fair dose of rock'n'roll, rape, murder and violence as well. The set is the fivesome's fourth full-length and their first since moving over to a major label from Kill Rock Stars. Recruiting Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla and Seattle mainstay Tucker Martine to man the decks.


Capitol raised a few eyebrows when they signed indie stalwarts the Decemberists. There's nothing blatantly commercial about the Portland quintet, from Colin Meloy's quavery voice and hyper-literate lyrics to the band's wide-ranging music, which encompasses baroque pop, prog rock, and dozens of other styles. Then again, he did once sing, "I was made for the stage," and those who've seen the group live know this to be true. Sure, they're storytellers, but they're entertainers, too--just not in the Top 40 sense. Never ones to play it safe, their major label debut takes its inspiration from a Japanese folk tale. It travels from the Replacements-style balladry of "The Crane Wife 3"--which joins words like "Each feather it fell from skin/'Til threadbare while she grew thin" to the melody from "Here Comes a Regular"--to the ELP hoedown of three-part epic "The Island" to the haunting duet between Meloy and Laura Veirs on "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)." It's an impressively eclectic effort that somehow manages to avoid sounding scattered. Co-produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) and Tucker Martine (the Long Winters), the Decemberists' fourth full-length is richer, less immediately catchy than its predecessor (there's nothing as bouncy here as Picaresque's "Sixteen Military Wives"). It's also a deeper work that resists snap judgments. Some records hit you over the head with their brilliance, others need time to percolate. Time will tell if The Crane Wife is the Decemberists' best album--it's certainly their most ambitious so far. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Crane Wife 3
  2. The Island-Come & See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning
  3. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)
  4. O Valencia!
  5. The Perfect Crime #2
  6. When The War Came
  7. Shankhill Butchers
  8. Summersong
  9. The Crane Wife 1 and 2
  10. Sons and Daughters

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 3, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Capitol
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (184 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,079 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Cale E. Reneau on October 7, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Decemberists' fourth full-length album, and their first for a major record label, is, in my opinion, their best album to date. What's great about "The Crane Wife" is that it has a major record label sound without sacrificing the style that made The Decemberists the great, unique band that they are.

The album begins slowly, with the haunting acoustic ballad turned full-speed solemn sing-along, "The Crane Wife, Pt. 3." The song is classic Decemberists, but accessible enough that you'll undoubtedly find yourself singing "I will hang my head, hang my head low" with Colin, even if it's only your first time listening to the song. It's a great lead-off track, and really builds the momentum that lasts through most of the album. That momentum runs head-on into "The Island," a three-part 12 1/2 minute epic that instantly captivating and enjoyable.

"Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" is one of my favorite tracks on the album, as it features a beautiful duet between Colin and Laura Veirs. Of course, when I say beautiful, I'm not speaking of an R&B/Whitney Houston type of duet. Despite what many will undoubtedly say of them, The Decemberists have not "sold out" on this album. They've simply refined their sound, and made it more pleasant, with the help of Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, who serves as producer on this album. But I digress...

Moving along, the next two tracks on the album have a great chance of launching The Decemberists into levels of fame that they have not yet experienced. The first of these, "O Valencia!" is an upbeat, love song that features a nice Meloyian twist. Colin laments "O Valencia with your blood still warm on the ground, Valencia! And I swear to the stars I'll burn this whole city down!
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Format: Audio CD
The Decemberists make that riskiest of leaps in "The Crane Wife" -- to a major label, away from Kill Rock Stars. Hopefully that will get this beloved indie band the attention they deserve.

But a major label jump doesn't matter if the end product isn't good. And the Decemberists' fourth full-length album not only preserves their melodious sea-chanty sound, but it is also probably the best work this band has ever done, topping their previous album "Picaresque." From start to finish, this music is warm and enchantingly imaginative.

"And under the boughs unbound/All clothed in a snowy shroud/She had no heart so hardened/All under the boughs unbound," Colin Meloy murmurs in the opening song. The wintry lyrics make a stark contrast to the strummy little tune, fleshed out with intermittent piano. It's catchy and melodious, but much in the way that their previous songs were.

It's a good song, and a solid introduction to a string of similarly good songs, like the folky "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)," rollicking acoustic marches, and dreamy nautical-summer ballads. The Decemberists also dabble a bit in rock in the middle of the album, like the fast-moving riffs of "Perfect Crime #2," before switching back to familiar territory.

The Decemberists started off being good, but rapidly ascended to indie-rock greatness as they grew into their sound and made it more robust. "The Crane Wife" is just the natural progression of that, and it's hard to see how anyone could not like these jolly, catchy songs, with the charming lyrics and poignant imagery. Well, maybe if you don't like the sea.

They take some musical risks as well, with two songs clocking in at over ten minutes apiece.
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Format: Audio CD
I haven't heard any of the Decemberists' previous albums all the way through, so I'm not prepared to debate how The Crane Wife stacks up to any of them. What I can say, though, is that this is one enjoyably bizarre and quirky listen. These guys didn't leave anything on the field for their major-label debut--this is about as ambitious an album as you'll hear from a band with corporate backing. The band draws from an expansive range of seemingly disparate influences and incorporate all kinds of non-rock instrumentation (just check out the liner notes and see who plays what), and though not everything works equally well the overall result never fails to be distinctive or interesting. I've heard very few bands that could bring together so many different elements and make them all fit together into catchy, highly accessible songs. Their eclectic approach and occasionally daunting song lengths will probably prevent these guys from ever attaining "Indie Band Everybody Likes" status like the Shins, but it should be just the thing for those seeking something outside the indie-music norm.

For the most part, the album sees relatively straightforward, foot-tapping pop tunes splitting time with more spacious, epic balladry, all of it highlighted by Colin Meloy's emotive brogue and intricate arrangements underlain by the rock-solid drumming of John Moen. The highly poetic lyrics, which often seem taken from an anthology of 19th-century Irish literature, deal heavily with themes of love, loss, and misfortune, but with none of the triteness or sap that so frequently accompany such subjects.
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