“Years from now, they will make water from the reservoirs of our idiot tempers,” sings Bryan Webb. And we believe him. Like his spackle-stained band, we believe rock remains one of the few justifications for youth and lunacy. We believe our kids can learn from sweaty guitars and ringing ears. Joey Ramone and Elliott Smith could have done nothing else but what they did, and they left more than enough for the rest of us to ponder.
Tournament of Hearts, the Constantines’ third LP, is a testament to that belief. Its scraped-knee rock is a yelp over the murmur of wasted lives – a scraggly reply to blue-collar disappointment built on the hope that “there’s a little good in everything.” And for the most part, it also sounds phenomenal. Webb and Steve Lambke’s big-chested guitars introduce themselves with squeals of feedback and Doug MacGregor’s tundra-conquering percussion bounds like sled-dogs over Webb’s Springsteen-cum-Ian Curtis bark. Whether they’re taking names or taking their sweet time, the Constantines pull no punches here.
Dedicated to Starhawk, a global activist, author and figurehead in pagan spirituality, “Draw Us Lines” opens the album with blood on the floor. Angry feedback swirls underneath Webb’s fiery proclamations between cage-rattling single-chord guitar squalls in a song that could start a riot or end a war. The Canadian quintet never quite matches those few moments, but pleasures remain. “Love in Fear,” “Lizaveta” and “Working Full-Time” come off like arena rock for Canada’s grizzled pub-crowd, melding bold hooks with hard-won wisdom. “Good Nurse” throws a welcome bone to Clara Barton’s children and ends with an entirely unexpected Don Caballero throw-down, the guitars dueling like Siamese fighting fish in a Ziploc bag.
If “pub-rock” was a compliment – if it had more to do with populism and Pabst Blue Ribbon than irrelevance and Miller Lite -the Constantines would wear the label proudly. Tournament of Hearts scans the horizon with its weary eyes, takes in all the bitterness, dust and noise, and decides to pick up a guitar. “Let no one whose time is known, go alone,” Webb sings. We believe you, Bryan. Sing us a song. Sing us a song.http://www.constantines.ca/
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