The Constantines, Tournament of Hearts

The Constantines, Tournament of Hearts

The Constantines sound like Bruce Springsteen if he and the E Street band had grown up listening to Fugazi — here, even the keyboard player is a punk rocker! Between the Constantines’ preference for anthems and the singer’s unique voice, they have a distinctive sound. Emotionally they’re warmer than punk-rock usually allows, in the traditional rock sense — not many punk bands would have dared to write something as unabashedly romantic as “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright),” from their last album, Shine A Light. Tournament of Hearts has more variety than Shine A Light, however: different kinds of arrangements, more dynamics, some mellower songs, even something that could be considered country. Their keyboard player may be their secret weapon; he adds really nice touches that are interesting, partly because keyboards aren’t normally allowed by the post-punk mythos, but also because the parts simply work well.

In “Working Full Time,” the drum intro and the chorus reveal that the song is in fact a hard rock song, despite the droning rhythm guitar and bass during the verses. And nothing could be more populist than the subject matter, since it’s the one thing that everyone, regardless of class or musical interest, does. The band adds changes in the verse structure that bring the rock in a really interesting way, and the added keyboard riff turns the song into a thing of beauty.

“Hotline Operator” is the most complicated song on the record, but it doesn’t sound like it because it’s so ingeniously structured and arranged. The song changes meter at certain points, but the melody is strong enough to sustain the song. The arrangement is also very cool — it starts out very quiet, with a single rhythm guitar, and adds instruments and intensity at one point a couple of minutes in, but it never builds to the rampaging climax until the last seconds of the song, after which it cuts out. The vocals are the most dynamic part of the song, which for a post-punk song is quite a change.

“Soon Enough” is another great song. This one sounds something like modernist country. The song doesn’t swing like a good country song, and the band spends their time doing all of their normal jagged things, but the song’s melody, along with the pretty harmonies, define it as a country song. It certainly helps that here the singer (either Bryan Webb or Steve Lambke, not sure which; both are credited with vocals) doesn’t shout once — he sings the song in a normal tone rather than his usual call. That’s the other thing that makes it such a nice song, despite everyone’s best intentions.

(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA. 98121;; The Constantines --
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Review by . Review posted Tuesday, January 24th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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