This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2004
Other albums reviewed in 2004
A review of their album 'Shine a Light'
The Constantines are Canada's latest all conquering indie heroes. Having built up a loyal following (and considerable college radio success) on the back of their first album, they signed to Subpop for their second offering "Shine A Light", presumably guaranteeing better distribution into the States and Europe.
The album opens with "National Hum", a fairly forgettable quick and dirty punk track, more about attitude than substance. If its purpose is to grab your attention, it certainly achieves that through my current pet hate, vocalists singing with affected accents. It is difficult to take seriously a band from Toronto sounding like Joe Strummer.
Things do improve over the next few tracks
which are at their most interesting as the tempo slows - "Insectivora" and
"Goodbye Baby & Amen" being the better songs on this record, but even they are
let down by some torturous lyrics. For example, "Loosen up the collar / Shake
of the wire / Run like a river / Glow like a beacon fire" can at best be
described as poetic in a shamanistic,
Jim Morrison sort of way. To me, it sounds
deliberately oblique and forced. The rest of the tracks are the bastard spawn of
early Wire laced with the funked up baselines of Fugazi. The problem here though
is that rather than distilling a new sound, The Constantines left me wanting to
go listen to either Wire or Fugazi.
Another bone of contention here is the roughness of the production. Even by SubPop standards, it is decidedly unpolished. This, I am sure, is a reaction to the sanitised, MTV friendly rock music pervasive America at the moment, but it really does the band a disservice. Most grating is the use of keyboards on every song, whether they add to the track or not. It smacks of a band recording exactly what they do live rather than taking direction from an experienced producer. That extra dimension is sorely missing, right down to the lack of variation between the songs which makes listening to the whole album a bland experience, even though individual tracks have their merits.
I gave this album every chance to grow on me but despite repeated helpings, it just leaves me cold. Of course, these are the observations of someone who saw west coast hardcore the first time round and was never particularly moved by it. Right now, there is a whole generation getting off on old school skater punk, with Bad Religion and Fugazi as popular as ever. The Constantines fit this musical mould perfectly; they are young and raw and might just be in the right place at the right time. Their music has been done before and done better, but that fact hasn't stopped the likes of The Strokes / Interpol / The Darkness carving out stellar careers and to be fair, there is enough in "Shine a Light" to suggest they might do something interesting in the future.
Verdict: check back in an album or two.