Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Decemberists, The Crane Wife

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Colin who would spend his time rooting around in the attic where he found elaborate old clothes and dusty stories of long ago.  He crane wifeloved to dress up in these clothes, hang a sheet over the clothesline in the back yard on which he painted extraordinary scenes in his imagination, and act out the stories he had read.  Some of the other little kids said “Wow!  Can I play”  and he said “Sure!”  And his parents said, “Isn’t he cute?”

As time went by he read more stories, and found more clothes, and made more plays.  He would ask his parents questions:  What’s a cormorant?  Did you know that palanquin rhymes with elephant of you say them just the right way?  Why don’t people write songs about 19th century sailors preparing a body for burial at sea?  Most of the other kids, who weren’t so little anymore, said “Dude!  This is seriously fucked up.  You need to get a life, man.”  And his parents said . . . well I don’t really know what his parents said but I imagine there were moments when they were concerned.

As more time went by Colin began writing the songs other people didn’t write.  A few friends had stuck with him and they formed a band to sing Colin’s songs.  They called themselves The Decemberists and they sang songs about things nobody else sang about, and they played music that sounded like nobody else sounded.  And the other kids said “wtf’s a cormorant?” 

Much to everyone’s surprise people liked The Decemberists even though they sang songs about things nobody else sang about and made music that didn’t sound like anybody else’s music.  Or maybe it was because of these things that people liked them.  Who knows? Whatever the case may be, they gathered a devoted following.  And then something frightening happened.  The Decemberists were a small band on a small record label called Kill Rock Stars.  But one of the monsters of the music business, Capitol Records, noticed The Decemberists and came to take them away from Kill Rock Stars and keep them in their own stables among hundreds of other musicians they had captured with the lure of big budgets and big stardom.  The devoted followers of Colin’s band were dismayed for they thought the monstor Capitol would devour the gentle Decemberists like they had so many others. 

Time went by and The Decemberists’ made a new album called The Crane Wife which flew out of the immense Capitol music factory.  The devoted following bought the album and put it on their CD players with fear and trepidation.  And they discovered that something magical had happened to Colin and his band.  Colin was still writing songs about things nobody else wrote songs about and he was still doing things like rhyming cormorants with fingerprints (if you say them just the right way).  But something seemed to have happened to the band.  They grew some balls.  Where before they had flirted with veerering off into the insufferably twee now they had punch, and kick, and muscle.  At times they rocked!  And they did all this without losing an iota of what had made The Decemberists so attractive in the first place.  And the other kids said “It’s all good!”

 How fine it is to live in a world where little boys like Colin Meloy and his bandmates Nate Query, Jenny Conlee, John Moen and Chris Funk can grow up to form bands that march to their own tune without regard for the things that are considered essential for music manufactured to sell millions of units. How fine it is to live in a world where The Decemberists can survive, flourish and develop to the point where they can produce a brilliant album like The Crane Wife.  And how fine it is to live in a world where the rest of us can hear it. 

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05/18/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music

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