The Constantines’ Shine a Light was easily one of the best albums of last year, fusing together raw punk rock intensity, bluesy blue collar soul and eerie ambient textures. But even more impressive than their recorded output (which is hard to do) is their unparalleled stage presence. Live, the band lifts their hands to the heavens in a minute-long pause in “Shine a Light,” chants in unison to “Hyacinth Blues” and gives a four-man tambourine intro to “Insectivora” while guitarist Steve Lambke plays the opening chords. Surely anyone who owned Shine a Light and witnessed the band’s rapturous medicine show couldn’t resist the call of the merch table and the glare of the cellophane surrounding the red cover of The Cons’ 2001 self-titled debut. But those who hadn’t the $10 to shell out at the venue were, basically, shit out of luck, for the only way to easily obtain The Constantines was over the internet or in a store that carried good imports. And the likeliness of either option re-stocking before the next time the band came back to your town was extremely low.
But Sub Pop knew they had something good on their hands and lent fans a bone with the brilliant idea of reissuing the album. And for those just hearing it for the first time, it’s fucking amazing. Shine a Light was an impressive disc on its own, but The Constantines is audible evidence that the Cons were blowing minds at home two years prior to its release. The two bands the Constantines are most often compared to, Fugazi and The E Street Band, are merely a touchstone into the varied textures and complexities of their hyper-literate sound-dynamics. Instead of catering to the rigid post-hardcore of the former or the classic rock sensibilities of the latter, The Constantines create a more jagged, yet serpentine mixture that spits in the face of the nearest genre.
Vocalist Bry Webb is a punk rock messiah, his raspy wail spouting stream-of-consciousness verses that suggest sermons and political propaganda without actually being either. In fiery opener “Arizona,” Webb shouts, “We want the death of rock and roll!” In “Some Party,” Webb turns anarchist manifesto into poetry: “Tonight we milk the stiffs, storm the Bastille, raid the throne, mock the swine who’ll rot in heaven swinging on the velvet ropes.” Rather than opt for a simple “fuck you,” Webb spits highbrow venom that proves his literary background expands beyond Noam Chomsky and a transcript of Sid and Nancy.
The two highest peaks on the album are, without a doubt, “Young Offenders” and “Hyacinth Blues.” About two-and-a-half minutes into the former, the volume drops dramatically before detonating a coda that could destroy Ontario. All the while, Webb shouts “Can I get a witness?” as if channeling Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Marvin Gaye simultaneously. “Hyacinth,” however, is a slower, bluesier track that sees the band chanting “O-V-E-R-D-O-S-E.”
The Constantines is the sound of a band that cares not for following conventions or fitting into a specific niche. But it should be noted that this album came out three years ago, giving the band a few years to make an even larger impression on the face of rock music. And to all the bands attempting a similar feat, I can only say good luck in trying to keep up.
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Source Tags and Codes
Fugazi – Red Medicine
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.