Monday, August 25, 2008

LB's Music Pick of the Week: The Constantines

Apologies for being late on this one, but my better half did not get it to me until late Friday, so I'm going to pass the blame over his way...

It’s taken a few weeks to get to but I’ve decided it is time to recommend what stands as probably my favourite record of all time. It is certainly the one that I most return to from the band that I never grow weary of. Shine a Light, the Constantines second record, is an almost perfectly crafted twelve song collection that blends full scale rock n’ roll assaults with subtle touches and soulful infusions that never undermine the groove. It is a blend that they have struggled to recapture the balance on subsequent releases. We discovered the Constantines as a live band and it can sometimes be difficult for great live bands to capture the essence of what they do on stage in the studio. This record accomplishes that task with √©lan. Its opening five tracks could probably stand with any a-side in classic rock history. The open with the rambunctious and up tempo “National Hum,” a showcase of both their mastery of stop and start rhythms and obscure lyrics like “The mayor’s putting fences up to keep the bodies off the Don Valley Parkway.” They follow it up with possibly the two best songs they’ve ever written and certainly the two that most people think of when they describe the band as anthemic. Back to back, we are treated to the soaring anthem “Shine a Light” and the growling, strength of its partner “Nighttime, Anytime” with its grow call to “turn it up” that sounds almost as good on record as it does when a club full of people shout it out, half pleading but half commanding. The slow crawling “Insectivora” changes the pace without dulling the tone before “Young Lions” declares their love for old fashioned rock with a song that slowly builds and turns on a solid, traditional chorus.

The rest of the album is almost equally good. Individually the songs stand alone. Some are fast and driving, some wallow a little more and others just take their time. Each is enjoyable and engaging but the magic of the first five is not quite there. The seamlessness that allows five songs at a running time of almost twenty minutes to flow by is for some reason derailed. The record, however, continues to reveal itself in little keyboard flourishes and lyrical intricacies. Songs like “Tank Commander” and “On To You” demonstrate that they are a rock band who have learned from not only the punk rockers who were popular when they went to school but the independents who blazed the trail before. And then they finish on “Sub Domestic” with a little jangly flourish that reveals a hint of country that was definitely not there before. The beauty of this album is not only in its ability to shift directions and surprise but also its ability to make you familiar with those shifts until they feel like the obvious thing to do.

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