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05 October 2006 — The Crane Wife, Annotated (1)

I've been listening to the Decemberists' new album, The Crane Wife, for weeks now. (A loyal foldedspace reader sent me a copy a month before its release.) I meant to post a preview weeks ago, but time passed, and now the preview is a review of sorts.

First, you may wish to visit my previous entries about this Portland group:


With one exception, this is a fantastic album, a tapestry of words and music unlike anything I've heard before. (Well, actually, it reminds me some of Natalie Merchant's Ophelia.) It's like the promise of The Decemberists come to fruition. The more I listen to it — and I've heard it about forty times in the past month, according to iTunes — the more I love it. It just gets better and better.

The Decemberists are a hard band to describe. They're sort of alt-folk-rock with lots of pirates and death and stuff thrown in for good measure. Colin Meloy, the lead singer and primary "face" to the band, is a big fan of The Smith's Morrisey (and, in fact, has released a solo CD covering five of his songs). Meloy has a penchant for penning witty songs filled with archaic words and vivid images.

Though their last album had a couple of standout tracks, it was actually the group's weakest effort to date, marred by too much topicality. They're best at doing quirky, quaint story songs; they're not so good at political statement.

The Crane Wife, I'm pleased to say, is a return to form. It features many lovely songs, and they lyrics are Meloy's strongest to date. In fact, I like the album so much that I spent most of my free time today transcribing lyrics and annotating them. (You can see the results at the end of this post.)


This album is built around a theme: the Japanese folk story of the crane wife. Three of the songs (contained in two tracks) are directly related to the story; the others are less so, but still fit thematically, except for the woeful "The Perfect Crime 2", which is the one track I've unchecked in iTunes (so that it never plays unless I specifically select it). ("The Perfect Crime 2" isn't the worst Decemberists song. That would be "The Sporting Life", which is simply painful to listen to.)

Here, then, is my attempt at transcribing the lyrics. I made a pass on my own, then googled for other people's efforts (such as here and here). Some of the other transcriptions make sense; others don't. What I've posted here is my best guess at most of the lyrics. I welcome corrections. I've annotate the more obscure lyrics — I welcome corrections on these, too.

Enjoy!



The Crane Wife
by The Decemberists

01. The Crane Wife 3 (4:17, played 31 times in the past month)
And under the boughs unbowed
All clothed in a snowy shroud
She had no heart so hardened
All under the boughs unbowed

Each feather it fell from skin
Til threadbare, she grew thin
How were my eyes so blinded?
Each feather it fell from skin

And I will hang my head, hang my head low

A grey sky, a bitter stain
A rain cloud, a crane on the wing
All out beyond horizon
A grey sky, a bitter stain

And I will hang my head, hang my head low

02. The Island, Come And See, The Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel The Drowning (12:38, played 26 times)

There's an island hidden in the sound
Lapping currents lay your boat to ground
Fix your barb in bayonet
The curlews carve their arabesques
And sorrow fills the silence all around
You come and see

There's a harbor lost within the reeds
A jetty caught in overhanging trees
Among the bones of cormorants
No boot-mark here, nor fingerprints
The rivers roll down to a soundless sea
To come and see

The tides will come and go
Witnessed by no waking eye
The willows mark the wind
And all we know for sure
Amidst this fading light
We'll not go home again
Come and see

In the lowlands nestled in the heath
A briar cradle rocks its babe to sleep
Its contents watched by Sycorax
And Patagon in parallax
A foretold rumbling sounds below the deep
You come and see

The tides will come and go
Witnessed by no waking eye
The willows mark the wind
And all we know for sure
Amidst this fading light
We'll not go home again
Come and see

******

As I once rambled
Down by the water
I spied in sable
The landlord's daughter

Produced my pistol
Then my saber
"So make no whistle
or thou will be murdered"

She cursed, she shivered
She cried for mercy
"My gold and silver
If thou will release me"

"I'll take no gold, Miss,
I'll take no silver
I'll take those sweet lips
And thou will deliver!"

******

I will dress your eyelids
With dimes upon your eyes
Lay you close to water
Green, your grave will rise

Go to sleep now, little ugly
Go to sleep now, little fool
Forty-winking in the belfry
You'll not feel the drowning
You'll not feel the drowning

Forget you once had sweethearts
They've forgotten you
Think you not on parents
They've forgotten too

Go to sleep now, little ugly
Go to sleep now, little fool
Forty-winking in the belfry
You'll not feel the drowning
You'll not feel the drowning

Hear you now the captain
Heed his sorrowed cry
The weight upon your eyelids,
Is dimes laid on your eyes

03. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) (4:17, played 31 times)

(Him)
Heart-carved tree trunk
Yankee bayonet
A sweetheart left behind

(Her)
Far from the hills
And the sea-swelled Carolinas
That's where my true love lies

(Him)
Look for me
When the sun-bright swallow sings
Upon the birch bough high

(Her)
But you are in the ground
With the wolves and the weevils
All a-chewin' upon your bones so dry

(Chorus)
But when the sun breaks
To no more bullets in Battle Creek
Then will you make the grave
For I will be home then, I will be home then
I will be home then, I will be home then

(Her)
When I was girl
How the hills of Oconee
Made a seam to hem me in

(Him)
There at the fair
When our eyes caught careless
Got my heart right pierced by a pin

(Him)
But O did you see
All the dead of the Manassas
All the bellies and bones and the bile

(Her)
No I lingered here
With the blankets barren
And my own belly big with child

(Chorus)
But when the sun breaks
To no more bullets in Battle Creek
Then will you make a grave
For I will be home then, I will be home then
I will be home then, I will be home then

(Him)
The stems and bones and stone walls too
Keep me from you
This skein of skin is all too few
To keep me from you

(Both)
O my love though our bodies may be parted,
Though our skin may not touch skin
Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow
I will come on the breath of the wind

04. O Valencia! (3:45, played 27 times)
[this song is very R and J]

You belong to the gang
And you say you can't break away
But I'm here with my hands on my heart

And our families can't agree
I'm your brother's sworn enemy
But I shout out my love to the stars

So wait for the stone on your window, your window
Wait by the car and we'll go, we'll go

When first we laid eyes
I swore to no compromise
Til I felt my caress on your skin

But how soon we were betrayed
Your sister gave us away
And your father came all unhinged

So wait for the stone on your window, your window
Wait by the car and we'll go, we'll go

But O! Valencia!
With your blood still warm on the ground
Valencia!
And I swear to the stars, I will burn this whole city down

All I heard was the shout
Of your brother calling me out
And you ran, like a fool, to my side

Well the shot, it hit hard
And your frame went limp in my arms
And an oath of love was your dying cry

So wait for the stone on your window, your window
Wait by the car and we'll go, we'll go

But O! Valencia!
With your blood still warm on the ground
Valencia!
And I'll burn this whole city down

Valencia!
With your blood getting cold on the ground!
Valencia!
And I swear to the stars, I will burn this whole city down

05. The Perfect Crime 2 (5:33 of hell, played 12 times)
Sing muse of the passion of the pistol
Sing muse of the warning by the whistle
A night so dark and waning
A dawn obscured by a slate sky, raining

Five-and-twenty burglars by the reservoir
A teenage lookout on the signal tower
The mogul's daughter in hog-ties
The mogul fingers the wrong guy alright

It was the perfect crime (ad nauseum — worst chorus ever)

The bagman's quaking at the fingers
The hand-off glance a little lingers (???)
A well-dressed man in the crosshairs
A shot rings out from somewhere upstairs

It was the perfect crime (ad nauseum)

It was like a ticker-tape parade
When the plastique on the safe was blown away
And we all gaze from eye to eye
As we mouth our silent good-byes

The valley's sleeping like a bastard
It stinks of slumbering disaster
Two words are spoke on the tapwire
The agent's ploy was a sure-fire backfire

It was the perfect crime (ad nauseum)

06. When The War Came (5:04, played 22 times)
With all the grain of Babylon
To cultivate to make us strong
And hidden here behind the walls
Our shoulders wide and timber on (???)
Til the war came — til the war came

A terrible autonomy
Has grafted on to you and me
A trust put in the government
Who told their lies as heaven-sent (???)
Til the war came — til the war came

And the war came with a curse and a caterwaul
And the war came with all the poise of a cannonball
And they're picking out our eyes by coal and candlelight (???)
When the war came, the war came hard

(This verse is a mess...)
We made our oathes to Avalon
We'd not betray the sole soul anon (???)
The acres of hysterisy (???)
To our own pangs of starvation
When the war came — when the war came

And the war came with a curse and a caterwaul
And the war came with all the poise of a cannonball
And they're picking out our eyes by coal and candlelight (???)
When the war came, the war came hard

With all the grain of Babylon...

07. The Shankill Butchers (4:37, played 31 times)
The Shankill Butchers ride tonight
You better shut your windows tight
They're sharpening their cleavers and their knives
And taking all their whiskey by the pint

Cuz everybody knows
If you don't mind your mother's words
A wicked wind will blow
Your ribbons from your curls
Everybody moan, everybody shake
The Shankill Butchers want to catch you
Awake

They used to be just like me and you
They used to be sweet little boys
But something went horribly askew
Now killing is their only source of joy

Cuz everybody knows
If you don't mind your mother's words
A wicked wind will blow
Your ribbons from your curls
Everybody moan, everybody shake
The Shankill Butchers want to catch you
Awake

The Shankill Butchers on the rise
They're waiting until the dead of night
They're picking at their fingers with their knives
And wiping off their cleavers on their thighs

Cuz everybody knows
If you don't mind your mother's words
A wicked wind will blow
Your ribbons from your curls
Everybody moan, everybody shake
The Shankill Butchers want to catch you
The Shankill Butchers want to cut you
The Shankill Butchers want to catch you
Awake, awake, awake, awake

08. Summersong (3:27, played 32 times)
Ramblin', where to begin
I taste the summer on your peppery skin
Been saved, the warm of the waves
I felt a slip into a watery grave

My girl, linen and curls
Lips parting like a flag'll unfurl
She's grand, the bend of her hand
Digging deep into the sweep of the sand

And summer arrives
With a length of light
And summer blows away
And quietly gets swallowed by a wave
It gets swallowed by a wave

Waylay the din of the day
Boats bobbing in the blue of the bay
In deep, far beneath
All the dead sailors slowly slipping to sleep

My girl, linen and curls
Lips parting like a flag'll unfurl
She's grand, the bend of her hand
Digging deep into the sweep of the sand

And summer arrives
With a length of light
And summer blows away
And quietly gets swallowed by a wave
It gets swallowed by a wave

09. The Crane Wife 1 and 2 (11:23, played 39 times)
It was a cold night and the snow lay round
I pulled my coat against the falling down
And the sun was all, and the sun was all down
And the sun was all, and the sun was all down

I am a poor man, I haven't wealth nor fame
I have my two hands and a house to my name
And the winter so, and the winter's so long
And the winter so, and the winter's so long

And all the stars were crashing round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

It was a white crane, it was a helpless thing
Upon a red stain, with an arrow in its wing
And it calling cried, and it calling cried so
And it calling cried, and it calling cried so

And all the stars were crashing round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

My crane wife, my crane wife
My crane wife, my crane wife

And now I helped her, and now I dressed her wounds
And now I held her beneath the rising moon
As she stood to fly, as she stood to fly away
As she stood to fly, as she stood to fly away

And all the stars were crashing round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

My crane wife, my crane wife
My crane wife, my crane wife

******

My crane wife
Arrived at my door in the moonlight
All starbright and tongue-tied
I took her in

We were married
And bells rang sweet for our wedding
And our bedding was ready
We fell in

Sound the keening bell, and see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle, the feathers in the thread
Well all I ever meant to do was to keep you
My crane wife, my crane wife, my crane wife

We were poorly,
our fortunes fading hourly
And how she loved me
She could bring it back

But I was greedy
I was vain and I forced her to weaving
On a cold loom in a closed room
Down the hall

Sound the keening bell, and see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle, the feathers in the thread
When all I ever meant to do was to keep you
My crane wife, my crane wife, my crane wife

There's a bend in the wind and it rakes in my heart
There is blood in the thread and it rakes in my heart
Rakes in my heart, heart, heart, heart

Heart, heart, heart, heart
Heart, heart, heart, heart

My crane wife

10. Sons And Daughters (5:11, played 44 times)
When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls, aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon

These currents pull us across the border
Steady your boats, arms to shoulder
Till tides won't pull our hull aground
Making this cold harbor now home

Take up your arms, sons and daughters
We will arise from the bunkers
By land, by sea, by dirigible
We'll leave our tracks untraceable

When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls, aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon

When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls, aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon

When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls, aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon

When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls, aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon

Hear all the bombs fade away
Hear all the bombs fade away
Hear all the bombs fade away...


Comments
On 29 March 2007 (07:57 AM), Enrique said:

There's no need to guess lyrics; they are in the liner notes of the CD!