The Crane Wife

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The Crane Wife
Studio album by The Decemberists
Released October 3, 2006
Recorded March–June 2006
Genre Indie rock, folk rock, progressive rock
Length 60:15
Label Capitol/Rough Trade
Producer Tucker Martine and Christopher Walla
The Decemberists chronology
The Crane Wife
The Hazards of Love

The Crane Wife is the fourth album by The Decemberists, released in 2006. It was produced by Tucker Martine and Chris Walla, and is the band's first album on the Capitol Records label. The album was inspired by a Japanese folk tale, and centers on two song cycles, The Crane Wife and The Island, the latter inspired by William Shakespeare's The Tempest. National Public Radio listeners voted The Crane Wife the best album of 2006.[1]

The album cover was designed by the Portland artist Carson Ellis, Colin Meloy's wife, who has created artwork for each of the band's albums.

The story of The Crane Wife[edit]

The Crane Wife is an old Japanese folktale. While there are many variations of the tale, a common version is that a poor man finds an injured crane on his doorstep (or outside with an arrow in it), takes it in and nurses it back to health. After he releases the crane, a woman appears at his doorstep with whom he falls in love and marries. Because they need money, his wife offers to weave wondrous clothes out of silk that they can sell at the market, but only if he agrees never to watch her making them. They begin to sell them and live a comfortable life, but he soon makes her weave them more and more. Oblivious to his wife's declining health, his greed increases. He eventually peeks in to see what she is doing to make the silk she weaves so desirable. He is shocked to discover that at the loom is a crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom. The crane, seeing him, flies away and never returns.

"When the War Came"[edit]

This song is a portrayal of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. During the siege, the German army surrounded the city entirely, preventing anything from going in or out. As a result, many died of starvation, and the final death-toll is estimated to be over one million. The song also has a political undertone to it; it is stated that despite the fact that people put their faith in the government which swore to protect them, they ended up being left unprepared and unequipped to fight off the Germans.[2] The song references Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist who died in a Soviet prison camp, in the lyrics.

"The last great book I read was Hunger by Elise Blackwell. It's about the siege of Leningrad in World War II, and there was a botanical institute. During the siege, which lasted a long time, the entire population was starving, but all of the botanists in the institute swore themselves to protect the catalog of seeds and plants and things, from not only a starving population, but also from themselves. It's pretty amazing. I actually ended up writing "When the War Came", a song on the new record, about that." - Colin Meloy[2]

"Shankill Butchers"[edit]

Shankill Butchers is a song about the Ulster Volunteer Force gang, the Shankill Butchers. The UVF is a Protestant paramilitary organization. The Shankill Butchers split off from the UVF in the mid-1970s and carried out a series of grisly murders. These are the basis of the song. The Butchers abducted seven random Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland and killed them in the middle of the night by slashing their throats. They also carried out several other shootings and bomb attacks, killing as many as 32 people. [3]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Colin Meloy.

  1. "The Crane Wife 3" – 4:18
  2. "The Island" – 12:26
    1. "Come and See"
    2. "The Landlord's Daughter"
    3. "You'll Not Feel the Drowning"
  3. "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" (duet with Laura Veirs) – 4:18
  4. "O Valencia!" – 3:47
  5. "The Perfect Crime #2" – 5:33
  6. "When the War Came" – 5:06
  7. "Shankill Butchers" – 4:39
  8. "Summersong" – 3:31
  9. "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" – 11:19
  10. "Sons & Daughters" – 5:13
Bonus tracks
  1. "After the Bombs" (iTunes bonus track) – 5:04
  2. "Culling of the Fold" (Tower Records bonus track) – 4:24
  3. "The Perfect Crime #1 + The Day I Knew You'd Not Come Back" (Starbucks bonus track) – 15:17
  4. "Hurdles Even Here" (Starbucks bonus track) – 4:31


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 84/100[4]
Review scores
Source Rating
The A.V. Club (A) [5]
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[6]
Being There Magazine 4/5 stars [7]
Blender 4/5 stars [8]
Music Box 4/5 stars [9]
Pitchfork Media (8.4/10) [10]
PopMatters (8/10) [11]
Robert Christgau 3.5/5 stars [12]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars [13]
MusicOMH 5/5 stars [14]
Subculture (favorable) [15]

The album was well received by critics, earning an 84% positive out of all reviews culled by Metacritic.[16] It was ranked #41 on Pitchfork Media's list of the top 50 albums of 2006. JustPressPlay named it the second best album of the 2000s.[17] Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "the best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses."[18] The album has sold 284,000 copies in the United States up to December 2008.[19] In a listener poll by NPR, The Crane Wife was picked as the #1 album of 2006.[20]


In popular culture[edit]

  • "The Crane Wife 3" was covered by Marianne Faithfull on her album Easy Come, Easy Go. She performed it live when she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on March 31, 2009, and on Later Live, presented by Jools Holland, transmitted on April 14, 2009, on the British BBC2 TV channel.
  • "The Perfect Crime 2" was played on the television show Gilmore Girls in an episode entitled "'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous" (season 7, episode 4).
  • "The Island: Come and See" was played during the first episode of New Amsterdam.
  • A cover of "Sons and Daughters" sung by Joe Anderson and Eloise Mumford was used in an episode of ABC's The River.
  • "The Crane Wife 3" was featured in the Scrubs episode, My Friend with Money.
  • "Sons & Daughters" was covered by Dwight Schrute and his family in the episode The Farm of The Office.
  • "The Crane Wife 3" was performed by the band, appearing as themselves, in the season 6 finale of Parks and Recreation.


  1. ^ "NPR Music: NPR Listeners Pick the Best CDs of 2006". December 7, 2006. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "When The War Came by The Decemberists Songfacts". Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  3. ^ Dillon, Martin (March 2, 1999). The Shankill Butchers: The Real Story of Cold-Blooded Mass Murder. Psychology Press. p. xvi. ISBN 0415922313. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Murray, Noel (October 3, 2006). "The Decemberists: The Crane Wife | Music | Music Review". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ "The Crane Wife". Allmusic. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  7. ^ Miller, Adam D. "Being There". Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ John Metzger. "The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (Album Review)". Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Decemberists: The Crane Wife | Album Reviews | Pitchfork". October 3, 2006. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  11. ^ Frauenhofer, Michael. "The Decemberists: The Crane Wife < PopMatters". Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  12. ^ "The Decemberists: The Crane Wife". Robert Christgau. October 5, 2006. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  13. ^ [2][dead link]
  14. ^ "The Decemberists - The Crane Wife | album reviews". musicOMH. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  15. ^ "different music blog". Subculturemagazine. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  16. ^ Metacritic: The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006): "The Crane Wife". Metacritic. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Albums of the 2000s". January 14, 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Positively Prog", Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov 5, 2006
  19. ^ Cohen, Jonathan (December 10, 2008). "Decemberists Back In 'Love' On New Album". Billboard. Retrieved December 11, 2008. 
  20. ^ NPR Listeners Pick the Best CDs of 2006