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Constantines - Kensington Heights

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Artist: Constantines

Album: Kensington Heights

Label: Arts & Crafts

Review date: Apr. 28, 2008

Constantines are a throwback act, one of those anthemic rock bands that inspire equal parts nostalgia and devotion. Lead singer Bryan Webb has that raspy tenor reminiscent of Springsteen, Westerberg and Bachmann, and like all of them, he gets a surprising amount of range from a voice that always sounds like it’s about to break. Steve Lambke, the other guitar player and singer in the band, occasionally counterpoints Webb with his own higher, reedy vocals. Regardless of who sings the lyrics, the rest of the band – bass player Dallas Werhle, drummer Doug MacGregor, and Will Kidman, who takes on a number of instrumental duties – provides a powerful backdrop, usually building each song to a full-out rock crescendo, no matter how mid-tempo it may seem at first.

In other words, Constantines play classic blue-collar rock music, albeit filtered through headier bands like the Clash and Fugazi. That they play it with such conviction and without much self-consciousness, despite decades of pronouncements from some critics and artists that it’s a dead genre, makes them especially exciting for fans that bemoan the current absence of galvanizing acts.

Of course, Constantines aren’t playing arenas. They’re not even among the most popular indie acts in North America. That’s partly because there’s always been something distinctly abstract about their brand of catharsis, and Kensington Heights is no different. Their lyrics are not overtly political, not overtly concerned with social or class issues, nor do they embody a particular ethical point of view. They’re often personal and fragmented; “Trans Canada” builds to a roaring crescendo, while Webb sings, “I had that vision, brother / the one about you, brother / that we did ride, and ride on / that shining path together.”

Which is not to say that the words undermine the music. On the contrary, they often have a way of heightening the visceral impact of the song, like when Webb sings in the chorus to “Our Age,” that “You remember in the living / there was no real forgiving. / In every age a common bent / to wonder on our innocence.” It’s just that the old-fashioned, “meaningful” rock influences are more atmospheric than explicit.

Musically, Kensington Heights (the name comes from the neighborhood in Toronto where the band has their practice space) splits the difference between their last two albums, Tournament of Hearts, which had a heavier, more intense sound, and Shine a Light, which had more pop songwriting. A number of the songs – like the previously mentioned “Trans Canada,” “Our Age,” the leadoff track “Hard Feelings,” and the late in the album highlight “I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song” – rank with previous standouts like Light’s “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s All Right)” and Hearts’ “Soon Enough.” At the same time, the album has a ragged, spontaneous sound, perhaps a conscious effort to produce an album that sounds more like the band’s live shows.

Kensington Heights isn’t drastically different from anything that’s come before, but it’s Constantines’ most consistent album so far, and a good starting point for anyone who hasn’t heard them and misses that old-time galvanizing, anthemic music.

By Tom Zimpleman

Other Reviews of Constantines

The Modern Sinner Nervous Man EP

The Constantines

Tournament of Hearts

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