The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Capitol by Eric Nielsen 10.25.06
It's so easy to hear success in this album. If you grew up on MTV in the 80's you hear so much of it in this new record by the Decemberists. At different times it sounds like so many archetypes of American pop and rock. Here's a list: at different points it sounds like, The Go Go's, Jethro Tull, Rush, Maquiladora, They Might Be Giants, REM, The Black Heart Procession, Duran Duran, Pink Floyd and Golden Earring. A wide range of sounds melt together on this pop album. I usually hate pop, but The Crane Wife is so often thoughtful and well managed. From the super groove of The Island to the downer chorus of The Crane Wife 3, this disc surprises with hope amidst a handful of tunes that range not only in genres but also times. The Civil War, the stylized vocals, the 80's references, the ultra modern production; all give this album a breadth worthy of a listen.
Of course this album tops lots of charts and appeals to the kids as well as the older, more jaded rock aficionados. It's a great downer and upper. Yankee Bayonet so reminds you of the first two records of REM, especially the guitar line and light hearted bop bops of Colin Meloy and Jenny Conlee. This song really benefits from Jenny's voice and it's in here that the Go Go reference hits home. When the two are singing "I will be home then" it's like a flashback to high school for me. "These currents pull us 'cross the border." When the lyrics work they remind you of the fleeting boats and sails of Vashti Bunyan and melt you with their simple pleasures.
I can also understand how some people can't get past the stylized vocals and the Jethro Tull/Spinal Tap voice that comes out often. You're wondering, is this tongue and cheek or is this guy serious. I like it because I figure he is serious, just serious enough. The music is definitely treated with a meticulous hand. There is some super sweet excellent keyboard sounds on this record. The guitars are treated differently as well. They sound like the lightest gauge strings tuned so loose that the brightness cuts through with a gentle hand and lay across the songs in a novel and humble way even, though they often lead the songs.
The Perfect Crime #2 is the biggest retro song on the disc. It really could be a sample from some overplayed MTV song from the mid 80's. Maybe a Duran Duran piece with the delay on the voice and the catchy chorus of perfect, perfect,. perfect, perfect again and again rings inside your mind. As much as you spoof it and the silly guitar effected riff that follows, it really is perfect medicine for a modern PIB (person in black). If you feel like indulging yourself in some modern retro, you really should try this album. If you're expecting too much maybe you'll be disappointed, but if you want to have fun with just the slightest edge of melancholy you should hear this record.