While its often overlooked in favour of genre categorization, one can address music as traditionalist or progressive. A record written with tradition in mind can be understood on a very primal level and is fully grounded in reality. Once can feel this to an extreme in roots blues and reggae albums. The instrumentation is typically sparse and not incredibly complicated, but songs are simply dripping with heart and soul. A progressive record, on the other hand, is somewhat removed from day-to-day life. It's more complicated, artistic, and sacrifices the some of its humanity for harsh, aggressive and innovative sounds. Fugazi's a band that's made lots of progressive strides, but often looses the comforting aspect of a good rock song along the way. I can listen to Red Medicine and be amazed at the band's art and message, but I can't imagine someone belting out "Bed For The Scraping" from the corner of a dimly lit bar.
When punk music is too traditional, you tend to have simplistic street punk albums. There isn't much under the surface, but damn does it feel good to shout along in the crowd. The opposite extreme can be seen in the recent onslaught of post-hardcore records. Their progressive rock influences borders on pretension, often resulting in initial awe and zero lasting connections with the music.
The Constantines mean so much to be because they transcend these archetypes. In any given song they can touch on 50-year-old rock elements and yet push forwards.
Musically The Cons are often compared to Fugazi. They share the same love for angular, swirling guitar play and rhythmic, dub-influenced songs. However while MacKaye's latter work presents a cold, extreme message of urban alienation, The Constantines take on that subject with much more grit and bare reality. Couple this with a strong roots rock influence that would make Strummer proud and you've begun to describe the band's sound.
Like on their debut, vocalist Bryan Webb seamlessly shifts from harsh guttural
verses (think Hot Water Music) into lulling, quiet moments (the clichéd
Springsteen comparison works well here). These extremes play out as the album
moves from the raging "National Hum," through the industrial clamour
of "Nighttime / Anytime (It's Alright)" to downright gentle
and inspiring songs like "Young Lions." The title track is perhaps
the album's most complete moment as keyboardist Will Kidman's haunting
opening leads to a dynamic song that best summarizes the band's approach
to songwriting. The harmonica on the country-influenced "Sub-Domestic"
makes me smile whenever I hear it.
Shine A Light feels important. The band manages to marry the accomplishments of the post-punk scene with the honesty of traditional rock that's often forgotten. Like all great bands, The Constantines straddle contradictory descriptions.