My fellow editor Adam recently wrote a blindingly good review for the new Constantines record. In it, he declared that the Cons' Shine A Light "feels important." This is exactly what I want to say about the new Weakerthans album, as well.
Reconstruction Site is nothing short of flawless. I have been a fan of the band for some time now, watching them move through the metamorphosis that has been their musical career. From starting out as "the guy from Propaghandi's new band" into the group that they are now, the Weakerthans have been making some of the most innovative pop music to ever grace human ears.
But yet, with each album there has been a flaw. Fallow, while a stunning debut, saw the band still stuck with the "ex-" moniker [not helping this was the fact that the band put two Propaghandi songs on the record, albeit revised]. The punk on the disc felt a bit forced, and the balladry was also a bit too awkward to stand on two legs. But one listen would tell you that this band would have a great future.
Left And Leaving fixed both the punk and the balladry problems, with songs like "Watermark" and "Aside" delivering the rock, and tracks such as "Pamphleteer" and "My Favorite Chords" showcasing the quartet's lighter side. Each song on the album was a gem, but the problem came in the sequencing of the disc - clocking in at over 50 minutes, with many of the slower tracks right in a row really killed the disc's momentum.
So of course, Reconstruction Site is the perfect balance of punk ferocity and pop balladry, with all 14 songs put in the order I would have placed them in personally had I written them. John K. Samson's voice is as unique as it has ever been here, and singing potent lines from start to finish. The albums opener, "(Manifest)," kicks off vocally with "I want to call requests through heating vents / and hear them answered with a whisper 'no'." From the get go, Samson and crew are out to defy the stereotype of a love song. The weirdly romantic theme continues in crunchy, Smoking Popes-esque "The Reasons," with the catchy chorus of "I know you might roll your eyes at this / but I'm so glad that you exist." This sort of postmodern, sarcastic love that Samson writes about is as sincere as it gets, and is straight from the heart.
The group's country roots shine through on the title track, a quick little multi-themed narrative about life. "Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call" puts Samson's voice as the thoughts of an Elks Lodge member [I'm sure there's some official name for them - Elksmen, perhaps? - but I just don't know it]. It's a subdued track that is over before you know it, but you wish it would have gone on for about 5 more verses or so.
Then the rock kicks in, with "Plea From A Cat Named Virtue" and "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)" batting back-to-back in the lineup. Each keeps up the narrative theme, with the first being written from the perspective of a cat [directed towards his lazy and depressed owner] and the second being a strange yet cute imaginary conversation about Antarctica [including the best use of the French language in rock music possibly of all time]. As usual, Samson's lyrics are chock full of wit and black humor, with lines such as "All you ever want to do is drink and watch TV / frankly that thing doesn't really interest me / I swear I'm going to bite you hard and taste your tinny blood / if you don't stop those self-defeating lies you've been repeating since the day you brought me home" really making you feel for this cat's plight, as odd as that might sound.
So normally when I write a review, I write an introduction, highlight the best songs on the disc, then wrap it up with a conclusion. The thing is, I've already talked about the first six tracks as if they were highlights, and that's the thing - they are all highlights. From the revisited musical theme appearing in both the chillingly beautiful "(Hospital Vespers)" and "(Past-Due)" to the savage guitar rock of "Prescience of Dawn," to the soon-to-be-classic anti-Winnipeg anthem "One Great City!", this disc is flawless. One of my favorite things of the entire disc is the fact that Samson almost never uses the same vocal line twice [and this has been true for the majority of his songwriting career]. Sure, the music in the chorus might be the same, but rarely are the words. And yet, somehow, I've learned almost every word on this album - that takes talent on the musicians' part to make the lyrics worthwhile enough to memorize when they are this varied and difficult.
Like countrymen the Constantines, the Weakerthans have put out an album that just feels important. The music wavers in that perfect area between tradition and progression, never getting too artsy nor too simplistic for their own good. It almost seems too perfect that both bands are touring together this fall, as both have put out two of the best albums of 2003, and possibly years to come.
Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call
Plea From A Cat Named Virtue
Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961) Lo Hi
Stream entire album here
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