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Constantines - The Constantines

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Artist: Constantines

Album: The Constantines

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Oct. 6, 2004

Originally released in 2001, the Constantines self-titled debut (until now only available on Three Gut in Canada) has been reissued by Northwestern indie giant Sub Pop. In a way it’s fitting; the band has more in common with say Mudhoney, than most of the independent rock currently crossing the northern border. The Constantines are analogous to many of Washington’s almost mythically huge groups because of their dynamic front man.

Lead singer Bry Webb immediately jumps out when listening to the Constantines. He doesn’t have what you’d call an original voice, belting his urgent protests ("Suppression is a state / We will not be diplomatic") with the vocal strands of various lead men. Think a husky, throatier Westerberg if he fronted the Hot Snakes; a brash Springsteen if he grew up further south in D.C.; Greg Dulli if he was in a decent band.

Despite an organ here or an occasional female voice there, this is pretty straightforward rock: incisive, bleeding guitars play calculated notes, while understated production complements the workman-like but reckless rhythm section. When the Constantines shift gears, they evoke less ironic '90s-rockers like the Grifters and Archers of Loaf, albeit at their most intense (and in tune). There’s not much pretension here, just four guys from Canada who close out their debut LP with a song about the day they finally got an amplifier.

And every once in awhile Webb strikes lyrical gold: “For those stuck between the wars / It’s boredom beyond measure” and “Leave no manifesto save graffiti in the train yard.” Elsewhere he laments about “the Easter of your skin” and “the music of the minions." Inexplicably – and clearly playing against their strengths – the band allows guitarist Steve Lambke to sing two of the songs. It’s two too many.

Ballads would also seem somewhat contrary to the Constantines' signature sound, but the rustic acoustic ballad "St. You" actually is the album's best song. A dedication to an ex that Rick Rubin would have loved to pick for Johnny Cash’s next covers album. Webb effortlessly nails the lines: “Baby bled on all my keys / She set my strings ablaze / Sweetheart you ask too many questions / It’s never just a pretty face”, revealing through timbre the dread of being misread.

It’s not hard to tell the four-piece from Guelph, Ontario, believes in what they’re doing. For a band with this kind of agenda, their brand of earnestness goes a long way.

By Jake O'Connell

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