Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Crane Wife - The Decemberists

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Long time fans of cult bands usually have that moment when their "indie" favourites get that shiny new Major-label deal and they meet that moment with a mixture of happiness and fear. Happiness that a higher profile should ensue, fear that the pressure of major label politics will either change the band's sound or lead the band in a commercially led direction.

In some ways that first sentence was a waste of time; I am not a long-term fan of the Decemberists. I've only listened to the odd song here and there from the band (and been quite impressed with what I've heard) but it's only with this new album that I've taken the leap for a whole album. But its important to know where this album is coming from.

Presumably there is more money than ever before available to the band and from the very first instance it is clear that the money was well spent. Whilst, to a certain extent, previous songs of theirs that I've heard have seemed a little cluttered you can quite clearly hear every little nuance on this album.

The centrepiece of the album is the epic, heroic, barmy and slightly pretentious three part The Island. In a way it's modern storytelling in the old folk music style and it's just about pulled off, although there is no doubting that some listeners would find the whole thing more than a little ridiculous, especially stretching as it does past the 12 minute mark.

Thankfully most of the rest of the album is a lot more brief, even if lyrically it does tread most of the same ground. As I've mentioned previously on this site, the single O Valencia was rather sublime and it's matched here by the duet with Laura Veirs, Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then). It's also a mark of the quality of the group that songs as disparate as Shankhill Butchers (a kind of chilling lullaby) and the blues-driven The Perfect Crime can exist as a cohesive whole.

Its clear to see that everything that made people love The Decemberists in the first place has mostly made the trip over to major label-dom and fans should be in no way disappointed in what they hear. Quite whether the wider world will take it into their arms is another matter. Some observers may find the whole thing a little too preposterous for their liking, although even they should find something to enjoy here.

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