Tournament of Hearts
Over the course of their first two albums, The Constantines were hardly what anyone would call a “growing” band. From the opening shot on their debut, they already sounded like a fully formed outfit, playing the perfect ratio of post-punk and roots-rock. They were Fugazi-meets-Bruce Springsteen in every sense of the comparison. With Tournament of Hearts, the group is finally taking that big step away from the obvious and from fan expectations. They’ve left behind much of the industrial thrum and alleyway confusion of the city for a grittier countryside. The frenetic post-punk has given way to a clearer sense of melody and great spaciousness in riffs, and the volume has been sacrificed for the sake of intimacy.
Raw emotion fills the veins of this album almost to the point of bursting, beginning with poignant minor-chord guitar stabs and unfurling with singers Bryan Webb’s and Steve Lambke’s blue-collar invocations of romance and beauty. “Love in Fear” is an amazingly sparse piece of swaggering, fiery intensity that burns with a questioning devotion, while “Soon Enough” is a worn out call-to-arms to control naked aggression. Webb’s surreal imagery (“years from now/they will make water/from the reservoirs/of our idiot tempers”) is set against a dusty, shuffling rhythm perfect for a defeated plea. It’s not surprising that four of the disc’s ten tracks are named after working/lower class occupations (“Hotline Operator,” “Good Nurse,” “Thieves” and “You Are a Conductor”). That the band pays respect to people in these positions is to be expected. Webb and Lambke have never been ones to shy away from politics or social issues, but by making the commentary about the person, not the job, it’s clear that this time the revolution they’re searching for isn’t just a cultural one. It’s one for the heart. One of the best albums of the year!
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