There's an unspoken requirement for guitar-strumming English majors to develop a penchant for lyricism that's worthy of canonization in Norton's Anthology. The Decemberists' Colin Meloy creates candid characters, as Charles Dickens did, in the same manner that Will Johnson, of Centro-matic fame, conveys the distinctly Southern grotesque of William Faulkner. The Decemberists' latest flight of fancy and Capitol records debut, The Crane Wife, portrays "The Landlord's Daughter," the selfless title character and the "Shankill Butchers," among others, through the band's usual blend of bouzouki-enhanced British folk. The three-part suite "The Island" is yet another study of episodic tension and release, mirroring the movement of the epic, five-act, 18-minute EP The Tain in its poignant prose and grandiose prog rock. But don't expect to find "The Chimbley Sweep" of Her Majesty or the pirate shanties of Castaways and Cutouts here. The band's fourth full-length casts aside a bit of its baroque gimmickry in favor of more grandiose depictions of love and war, and history and melancholy ("When the War Comes," "Sons and Daughters"). Fear not, the Decemberists' live performances remain as overanimated and theatric as ever, complete with vaudeville costumes and props. Let the show begin!
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