The Decemberists let their inner weirdos shine, with songs that hark back to a literary tradition of gruesome morality tales and also embrace more modern abominations such as the Shankill Butchers. Singer Colin Meloy talks to Jim Carroll
A COUPLE of years ago, Colin Meloy had a day job in a bookstore in Portland, Oregon. "I remember one day seeing this children's storybook, The Crane Wife, coming into the store. I had an idle hour and I flicked through it and I was really taken by the story." When it came time for his band, American indie folk-rockers The Decemberists, to record their fourth album, that old Japanese tale about a poor peasant who nurses a sick crane back to health kept coming to mind. It seemed to be the perfect starting point for an album which Meloy felt could be both epic and quirky.
"It's an amazing story, and I suppose what I find interesting is that you have all these different themes about greed and curiosity and love running through it, which have an universal application beyond what that one tale is about."
The Crane Wife is a hugely ambitious undertaking for The Decemberists, one of the most thoughtful and bookish of America's new indie school. The album consists in the main of longform songs reminiscent in some ways to their earlier work, The Tain, which was based on the Ulster mythological story once also musically explored by Horslips. The Crane Wife is a major league outing from a band raising their game on every level.
Meloy has always taken an interest in ancient fables and tales, particularly the more gruesome ones.
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I've been a fan of The Decemberists for about three years now. If my discovery of Horslips was nearly accidental, the path to The Decemberists was almost random in its happening. They first popped up years ago under a Googling of "Horslips-News" in an article in the Boston Globe. "And just who is this upstart Portland band who thinks they can do a concept album on the Táin?" I said as web engines ferreted out the official site. "Oh," sniffed I, once there, "Playing next week at the Great American Music Hall are they? Well. We'll just have to go see about THAT."
Came home with three of their albums.