Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Music Review: The Decemberists: The Crane Wife

It might seem somewhat late to review The Crane Wife, given that it released more than four months ago - but it passed by largely unnoticed in India. That’s a shame, considering that this is the best album I’ve heard in 2006. While the album is full of catchy, melodious tunes, it’s the lyrics that make this record the masterpiece that it is. Each song is more like a short story, told more-often-than-not in the first person, and singer Colin Meloy manages to immerse himself incredibly well into the skin of the characters he creates.

The songs are mostly about war and personal loss, but the tunes are upbeat, sounding even happy at times – which is nothing new to The Decemberists, but is a technique used so well in this album that it switches the mood of the songs from melancholy to aggression to optimism, and seamlessly at that. Even when Meloy sings “I will hang my head, hang my head low” in the first song, you’ll find yourself singing along sooner or later.

The album is held together by two “concept” songs – the sixteen minute title track in three parts, and “The Island/Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll not feel the Drowning”, a 12-minute track in four parts about a kidnapping and murder. This second track is the highlight of the album, starting off with a short progressive instrumental piece and then heading off into folk-rock territory, full of some very quick and very effective finger-picking, that is the mainstay for most of the album.

The most ambitious track, however, is the title track, The Crane Wife, based on a Japanese folk tale about a man who heals a wounded crane, only to find it return to his doorstep in the form of a beautiful woman – who he marries and subsequently loses because of his greed. The song’s third part, which ironically is the first track on the album, is one of their best tracks till date, sung so well that Meloy seems obsessed at times.

Another song that stands out is O Valencia, a story about the Romeo-and-Juliet premise of two lovers caught in the middle of a gang war. The chorus itself is enough to put vivid images in your mind as Meloy sings “I swear to the stars, I’ll burn this whole city down…”

Poetry set to great music, backed by very good instrumentation is how I would define this album. Definitely worth hearing.

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