What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?
Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.
From the beginning of October through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections – tell us why you agree or disagree – and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.
“This song is about the death of Danny Rapp/and that great gospel jest called rock ‘n’ roll”. Thus began Constantines’ first release—free of bullshit, full of energy. Two years later, when the Guelph, Ontario, group burst into our national waters with 2003’s Shine a Light, the buzzline went something like this: Canadian Fugazi fronted by a dude who sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen. As any regular AD reader might guess, I was a fish in a very small barrel. Though young and pissed, harsh and static like a great white winter, Shine a Light—and particularly its standout title track—is a record steeped in soul. “Don’t talk to me about simple things,” Bryan Webb croaks. “There is no such thing.” When things get heavy here, they get heavy with a purpose.
But with 2005’s Tournament of Hearts, Constantines found themselves in something of a musical lower-middle class, releasing critical gems on Sub Pop and opening for Pearl Jam but never really gaining the kind of grassroots success in the States that seemed to suit them. Lest you scoff, those Springsteen comparisons are apt, though not necessarily because of Webb’s sweating vocal cords. Tournament of Hearts is the kind of everyday-soul record on which Bruce first made his name, anthems of hope set over machine-thrum rhythms. And, sure, there’ve been a million bands that have sought for that same blue-collar sound, but no one else seems to understand the necessity—the good struggle—of work the way Constantines do. Whether that work comes from a job, a relationship, or a guitar doesn’t seem to matter; something has to be done.
In that way, Tournament of Hearts marks the moment we all became blue-collar. Beginning with the feedback swirl of “Draw Us Lines” and concluding with “Windy Road”s lullaby, the record batters out a vision of hope in struggle specific enough to matter and vague enough to matter to a lot of people. It’s a bold statement for rock ‘n’ roll music to make; it’s the same statement Springsteen himself made with Born in the USA and Nebraska, when he dared to acknowledge that not all problems can be solved by getting your motor running and heading on the highway. And while Bruce was shocked into repentance, Constantines seem to have known it all along, and a lot more besides.
While they hit with the same force they found for Shine a Light, the group are confident enough on Tournament of Hearts to vary the texture, spilling out of artsy-punk and into the slippery stutters of “Hotline Operator”, the swampy stomp of “Lizaveta”, or the piano-driven nerve rock of “Thieves”. The album’s two standout tracks, “Soon Enough” and “You Are a Conductor”, build slowly, with a weariness the group seems unconcerned by, as if they’ve come to terms with struggle: it’s not that it’s not there; it’s that it doesn’t matter. “Soon enough, work and love will make a man out of you,” Webb sings, and though the music dances a sad waltz with itself, it’s hard not to hear the sweetness in Webb’s bandmates’ harmonies.
It’s tempting to call Constantines the most underappreciated band of the decade, but I’m not sure that that’s really fair. While they’ve yet to find the sort of wide appeal that their anthems seem to command, it’s impossible to imagine that those who have found their way here have left without something resembling devotion. This is music based in brotherhood, in fraternity—and what good are anthems if they’re not sung together? No, this music, this rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t concerned with anything other than exactly where it is. “I’ll find my wealth all around me,” Webb sings in “Working Full Time”. “I want to wake up every morning full of wonder.” And he goes to work. words/ m garner