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Constantines - Tournament of Hearts

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Artist: Constantines

Album: Tournament of Hearts

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Nov. 20, 2005

The Constantines are a pretty unique proposition. Not too many bands could be described as blue-collar rock bands, but the Constantines could. They actually write songs about working, for one thing, and nod towards the dignity of labor with those songs. On “Soon Enough,” from their latest album, Tournament of Hearts, lead singer Bryan Webb ponders how “Years from now, they will make water from the reservoirs of our idiot tempers,” and then hits the song’s uplifting refrain, “Soon enough, work and love will make a man out of you.” Their songs also have a straightforward, cathartic intensity, and the production on Tournament of Hearts emphasizes the low end, so that listeners can hear the drums perfectly while the guitars are just a mess of squeals and feedback. Tournament of Hearts would, then, be perfect after a tough day at work. And finally, Webb sings like a guy who’s listened to more than his fair share of Springsteen.

Of course, the Constantines also combine their blue-collar appeal with a hefty dose of post-punk; “Love in Fear,” for instance, sounds like a heavily souped-up version of one of Wire’s two-chord masterpieces. Their lyrics also have a highbrow quality to them – just consider evasive lines like those from the opening “Draw Us Lines.” “Unknowns, unknowns, let all our gardens grow, and overtake our history / Seeking strength in mystery.” Taking these two features together, it would be easy to saddle the Constantines with the burden of reinventing or reconstructing rock music, taking art rock and connecting it once again with its working class roots. It would be unfair, too, since I doubt that any one band is capable of giving blue-collar credibility to a genre now followed primarily by self-described music geeks.

Besides, Tournament of Hearts sounds like it’s pitched toward white-collar geeks rather than blue-collar workers. The Constantines may be fond of heavy riffs and resounding choruses, but most of their songs stay within the usual indie rock territory. “Thieves” gestures at summer romance, and “Lizaveta” is about girl trouble as well. Choruses aside, the band also eschews the usual classic rock flourishes. There are really no solos, and aside from an occasional horn arrangement they stick to punk and post-punk arrangements and song structures. They may write songs about work, love, and responsibility, but the Constantines still have an awful lot in common with most indie bands.

What makes the Constantines appealing, then, is not that they do something totally new but rather that they do something familiar very well. People throw the word “whiny” around like no other adjective in mainstream indie rock. Here’s a band with smart, if cryptic, lyrics, that plays in a speaker-punishing style, and whose singer fits in with the Springsteen-Westerberg gravelly voiced tradition. There’s nothing whiny about the Constantines, and that alone makes Tournament of Hearts worth noticing.

By Tom Zimpleman

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