The major-label debut by one of indie rock's flagship bands has a 1970s' feel in more ways than one. "The Island" is a 12-minute prog-rock suite similar in structure to the high-drama operas of Queen. And like a lot of music from the Vietnam era, The Crane Wife is an artistic response to a culture of war. Songwriter Colin Meloy uses his formidable literary skills to make songs like "Yankee Bayonet" and "When the War Came" universal stories of human violence. There may be no reference to Iraq, but the album evokes the feel of this violent decade, achieving a social relevance rarely found in today's pop music.
By the last track, Meloy sings hopefully about the promise of a life beyond war, when "Sons and Daughters" arrive home to "hear all the bombs fade away." Wistfully mellow moments like "Summersong" have an indie sound more consistent with this Portland band's previous work, but The Crane Wife boldly ventures into the sound and spirit of album-oriented rock, proving the Decemberists can make great music in more than one dimension.