The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife is the Decemberists’ first album with major label Capitol, and while it placed higher on the US charts than any of their previous efforts, otherwise it’s business as usual for the band. If anything, The Crane Wife is more cohesive than anything since Castaways and Cutouts. This impression is helped by the two pieces that bookend the album and set the tone; the opening ‘The Crane Wife 3’ and closing ‘Sons and Daughters’ are both based around acoustic folk arrangements. The record centers on two song cycles, The Crane Wife and The Island – the former a Japanese folk tale, and the latter based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The shorter songs that make up the rest of the album aren’t thematically connected as far as I can tell, and feel much more like the album tracks from Picaresque, but mostly they’re top notch and largely acoustic based, which means they fit in just fine.
The absolute highlight, however, on The Crane Wife is the twelve minute prog-rock opus, ‘The Island’. The two parts of the title track (confusingly, ‘The Crane Wife 3’ opens the record) are wistful and acoustic, and altogether the two song cycles take up nearly half of the hour long record. Among the shorter songs, the call and response vocals of ‘Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)’, the heavy electric grind of ‘When The War Came’, and the jaunty, spry ‘Summersong’ are all highlights.
em>The Crane Wife doesn’t quite feel like a perfect album, partly perhaps because the group didn’t go right through with the original concept, but it’s one of the finest in the Decemberists’ catalogue.