The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (Cover Artwork)

The Decemberists

The Crane Wife (2006)


I see the Decemberists as having grown in the same organic fashion as Death Cab for Cutie; both bands started out as no-name indie rock bands and grew, slowly, into indie powerhouses and eventually grew so big that a major label noticed and signed them. Death Cab released Plans on Atlantic in 2005, and I must say, it was a pretty solid album. It picked up perfectly where Transatlanticism left off. The first major label effort for the Decemberists, The Crane Wife, wasn't quite so successful.

I will admit to being the kind of Decemberists fan who claims that Her Majesty, The Decemberists was the pinnacle of the band's career. Picaresque was a decent album with some awesome songs, but ultimately failed to live up to Her Majesty. The Crane Wife, then, is the next step in the slow decline of Decemberists' album quality.

The album opens decently enough with "The Crane Wife 3," which is the same brand of folksy pop that was featured on their previous albums. It works fairly well. The second track, "The Island: Come & See / The Landlord's Daughter / You'll Not Feel the Drowning", is just as long-winded as the title. It begins ("Come & See") with lame Pink Floyd-esque, keyboard-driven rock, changes ("The Landlord's Daughter") into peppy Mason Williams-ish keyboard-driven rock with wails that are reminiscent of Jack Black and ends ("You'll Not Feel the Drowning"), after 12 minutes, with a soft folk sound that is fit to be on a Decemberists record.

It seems as if Colin Meloy just discovered his dad's record collection and forced his band-mates to incorporate these "new" old sounds into the record. It all sounds very forced.

The first single, "O Valencia!", is decent, but with nowhere near the power of "The Engine Driver" or "Billy Liar." It incorporates the classic Decemberists sound, but built upon and evolved. "O Valencia!" should be the model for the next Decemberists album if Mr. Meloy wants to continue making good records.

The second single, "The Perfect Crime #2," sounds like a lame dance track cast-off from the Clash's Sandinista!. Once again, the Decemberists are just reaching for a new sound via help from the past instead of progressing their own sound naturally.

I may be ripping on these songs quite a bit, but they are good songs -- they're just disappointing considering what the band is capable of. In fact, the album ends with its two best songs: "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" is a perfect example of what the band's new sound should be. The slow buildup from acoustic plucking to organ-driven indie rock is flawlessly executed. It is a perfect Decemberists song. The moving "Sons & Daughters" closes the album with a choir chanting "hear all the bombs fade away." It would be an even better closing track if I knew that a perfect album had preceded it, but oh well.

I only hope that the band's humiliating defeat on "The Colbert Report" has made them do some soul searching about the direction in which they want their sound to go.