December 13, 2005 will live on as the day theater geeks the world over lost a little of their innocence. The purveyors of the soundtrack of their lives, the Decemberists, officially announced they were departing from the cozy confines of Kill Rock Stars and entering the big bad world of major labels by signing with Capitol. Hammy, overwrought blog entries and message board posts spread across the Internet, decrying the death of their heroes. After all, the band's literate theatrics would surely become stifled in the stagnant repressive environment of the major labels. Or, as it turns out, not quite.
You want literate? You want theatrical? How about a near-sixteen-minute retelling of a Japanese folk tale that unfolds over the course of three movements and two separate songs. That this "title track," as it were, is the creative core of The Crane Wife, the Decemberists' fourth full-length, should come as no surprise. What's shocking is what would seem on paper to be little more than a pretentious vanity project winds up containing the album's most inspired moments.
I question the decision to put the third part of the story as the opening track and lumping the first two parts near the album's end, but this doesn't detract from the quality of the music. The band captures the requisite emotions as the story unfolds, from the moment the protagonist first comes across an injured crane to when his wife flees, never to return. That you can create a playlist of the songs in sequential order and maintain a keen interest the whole way through is a worthwhile accomplishment.
Unfortunately, that accomplishment blew the band's creative load. Most of The Crane Wife consists of rehashes of Decemberists staples and by-the-books, cookie-cutter indie pop that runs the gamut between pleasant enough ("O, Valencia!") and barely tolerable ("Summersong"). Then, of course, there's the album's other "epic" song, the twelve-minute-plus "The Island, Come and See, the Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel the Drowning," but I'd just as soon forget what I can only describe as the sound of Meloy furiously masturbating while he lives out his personal prog-rock fantasy.
That train wreck aside, the members of the Decemberists have probably found a winning formula for themselves: a few crumbs to string the devoted fan base along with and a bunch of MTV2 fodder to pay the bills. It's a new era for the band, and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise. The Decemberists are dead. Long live the Decemberists!
Artist: http://www.decemberists.com/Stream The Crane Wife: http://www.mtvu.com/music/the_leak/decemberists/