Daily Archives: December 7, 2009

221. The Decemberists – “The Crane Wife”

I somehow missed this CD last week when it should have got a review before J.Denver. Anyway, better late than never.

This album would have followed on very smoothly from my Death Cab reviews.

The bands have some commonalities in sound, building layered tracks around a slightly feminine male vocal and some jangly guitar.  The Decemberists are much more enamoured with more acoustic instruments however.

The band also take a stronger storytelling approach.  There a several epic, multipart songs on here.  Each are captivating and literary. They have a bit of the Nick Cave’s about them in terms of presenting an imagined world of criminal capers, of marauding bandits, maidens and ship journeys.

The songwriting here is breathtaking at times. It is pretty lame to simply list rhyming couplets as evidence of such acumen, but I do love this one:

By land, by sea, by dirigible
We’ll leave our tracks untraceable

That’s brave stuff, but it works. These guys are true artistes, but without forgetting that you need to entertain and engage.  There is nothing to difficult on here – just tracks that sound great in the background, and even better when you pay attention. Here’s a testament to their balls –  a video of epic Sabotage proportions:

File under: The build something substantial with that crane

220. Depeche Mode – “101”

Back in 1989 a film was made of Depeche Mode’s US tour. I saw said flick and some time later acquired this double album which is, in effect, the soundtrack to the film.

The film had a curious “fish out of water” angle, as these poncey Brits with a predilection for bondage gear and a songlist high on sadomasochistic imagery, fill stadium after stadium across the very whitebread US. A small portion of their fans adopt the homo-goth uniform (and no doubt bear the brunt in their day-to-day lives). But most of the crowd look like the could just as easily be at a George Benson or James Taylor show (or perhaps even a Monster-truck meet).

But turning to the music, this is one of the better live albums I own. The production quality is astounding (I guess helped by the electronic nature of much of the material). The crowd are not typically intrusive. Indeed, the stadium setting is far from apparent on the record. I tend to imagine the recording as emanating from some cavernous, smoky, multi-levelled underground nightclub in Central Europe overrun with a crowd who look like extras from The Lostboys or Suburbia.

This albums also contains most of the band’s best tracks, such as these two (alas blemished by unnecessary crowd singalongs):

File under: A lesson in live recording