Shine A Light
f all the things that hipsters do that piss me off, the whole "I liked that band before they were famous" thing is probably the most egregious. It's never said as a plain statement of fact, of course; instead it is a form of control, superiority, implying that the listener, having not had as much experience with band X as the speaker, necessarily does not know what they're talking about.
So when I say that I knew the Constantines before they were 'famous', that's not what I mean. They went to the same university I go to- it's not like I have some great insight into them. Yeah, I went to some of the shows they held in their basement. They were pretty good. I even interviewed Steve once.
The real reason I mention this is because seeing hype form, up here in Canada and to a lesser extent down in the States, about four (now five) guys I used to see walking around downtown Guelph trying to get together rent money is a strange phenomenon. It's hard to believe the 'amazing new band' praise I've been hearing, knowing that I’ve seen singer/guitarist Bry Webb in his old day job at Chapters.
So, yeah, they make rock music. I'm not quite sure how to qualify it, though the common journalistic crutch here seems to be "Fugazi/Springsteen", and like most journalistic crutches it's accurate as far as it goes. I really liked their debut, it was smart and hooky and had some truly standout moments of intensity.
How does Shine A Light, the follow-up and debut on Sub Pop, sound? Decent. Strongly, boringly decent. It's got an excellent start: “National Hum” is probably The Constantines’ best song yet, with Steve (I think) providing the adrenaline with his extremely distorted and vicious growling. And then the title track highlights the new fifth member, keyboard player Will Kidman, showing that his inclusion was a good choice. Like most of the album, it's a solid, mid-tempo burner.
The middle's no slouch either. In fact, up until track 9 the album is remarkably solid- if not quite as exciting as the debut. “On To You” and “Poison” show a marked resemblance to Spoon, if they had recorded Girls Can Tell with the same production sound circa A Series Of Sneaks.
That the last four tracks are so relatively grey and unappealing is unfortunate, and shows a true lack of ability to sequence a record effectively, but it's not bad, not really. It's just blah.
If my disappointment is bleeding through this review, it's because the Cons' debut showed enough flashes of brilliance that even my dad thought they were on to something. And while “National Hum” and “Insectivora” show our faith wasn't totally misplaced, to everyone else, they probably sound like another talented young band that hasn't fulfilled their potential yet. But to me, well…they’ll always be "those guys that did that show in the Grad Lounge that one time where the sound system totally fucked up and they just kept going and, like, it was so awesome, you know?"