The Constantines – Kensington Heights

Arts & Crafts

When the Constantines burst onto the Canadian music scene with their 2001 self-titled debut their sound and fury was hard to believe. Here was a band that in the first song of their first release was already proclaiming “we want the death of rock ’n’ roll.” When 2003’s Shine a Light rolled out the kick-off to album-opener “National Hum” might as well have been the sound of Armageddon. Above all else the Guelph Ontario band knew how to sound important.

For a band that bases its sound on urgency growth can be uncomfortable. This came through on Tournament of Hearts the Constantines’ third album. By no means a weak effort the album was still underwhelming. Gravel-voiced front man Bryan Webb was as intoxicating as ever but he didn’t seem to be straining as hard to hit the notes. The band was tighter than ever but the sound was a little too honed too much of the danger weaned out for the sake of songcraft.

Kensington Heights doesn’t bring back the fury of the band’s first two albums. Oh the Constantines still have plenty of fire — their live show remains the stuff of legend and it’d be an uncomfortable stretch to say songs like “Hard Feelings” and “Shower of Stones” are remotely subdued. In fact “Credit River” may be the hardest thing the Constantines have done in years. However the band determined to burst apart the seams of rock ’n’ roll the band of pure muscle that fought its way through songs like “Shine a Light” or “Arizona” those Constantines are gone.

In their place is an act that wants to fulfil the promise of songs like the delicate “St. You” off the band’s debut CD or the country-inflected “Sub-Domestic” from Shine a Light . A band that’s OK with the idea that they’re not going to tear rock down and actually seems more concerned with holding whatever fragments are left of rock’s soul together. Webb is as hoarse as ever but the melodies come more naturally now. The songs take just as many unexpected twists but it’s more like the band is building its own structures rather than tearing someone else’s down.

As with Tournament the songs on Kensington Heights will only improve in a live setting. The drama dynamics and conviction of the band are built for a live audience — the slow-burning build at the end of “Do What You Can Do” seems destined for frenzied singalongs. The Constantines used to be described as a perfect blend of Springsteen and Fugazi. They’ve been steadily leaning away from the latter’s menace in favour of the former’s passion and the new sound may not be as shocking but it’s every bit as powerful.