Reunion Tour by The Weakerthans

October 3rd, 2007 by Justice

reunion tour weakerthans

Line-Up: Stephen Carrol, John K. Samson, Greg Smith, Jason Tait

The Weakerthans are perhaps the most quintessentially Canadian band recording music today, alongside The Fembots, with whom they share a founding member. This has never been more apparent than on Reunion Tour, their first release in four years. The cover art depicts the icy arctic, the back shows an old Bombardier skidoo and the interior is decorated with a northern town and parka-clad men, all drawn by Canadian artist Simon Hughes. The liner notes begin with an excerpt from Canadian-born poet Mark Strand. There are songs about curling rinks and hockey players and shouts of “Oh, Ontario!” And there’s a lot of beer and a lot of snow. The album – not really a reunion; the band never broke up – has also been billed as the band’s first real foray into experimentalism, and this isn’t especially accurate. By any objective standard, this album is far from experimental. For the most part it’s a straight-forward rock album, like the band’s previous three releases have been to varying degrees. However if held against their previous albums there is a discernibly higher degree of experimentalism, both in terms of structure and instrumentation.

You could argue that it picks up where 2003’s Reconstruction Site left off. The last track on that album faded out with a dissolving series of beeps and random electronic noise, and an earlier track was marked by reversed instrumentation. The electronic elements on Reunion Tour are mostly fairly subtle, and aside from the synthy introduction to the opening track, Civil Twilight, rest in great part in the background. This is best illustrated in the spoken word track Elegy for Gump Worsley, which is underscored by an unobtrusive electronic drone — sort of like a mellowed out Merzbow turned nearly all the way down. Like Reconstruction Site, it’s the closing track — a years-old staple of their live shows called Utilities — on which the experimental edge really makes itself known, opening with a Kid Koala-sounding bit of distortion quickly backed by electronic beeps and chimes, all of which gradually gives way to the band’s standard instrumentation.

The structural experimentation is most apparent on the aforementioned spoken word track, Elegy for Gump Worsley, a characteristically melancholy poem about a hockey goalie who couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing game in the sixties. It also comes through on a couple of back-to-back songs, Sun in an Empty Room and Night Windows. Again, these aren’t especially experimental in an objective sense, but for the Weakerthans, the reliance on background vocals and repetition is a welcome divergence from the norm.

Lyrically the album is excellent, but far from experimental for Samson. The tracks all fall within his established oeuvre of quirky sadness and melancholy in the quiet, lonely corners of the world. Tournament of Hearts feels a lot like Reconstruction Site’s Psalm for the Elk’s Lodge Last Call, in its reverence for near-empty bars full of distant people who don’t know where else to go. Hymn of the Medical Oddity and Civil Twilight share a lot in common with the title track of 2000’s Left and Leaving, with it’s fixation on the details of personal history and the roads that tie them together. Relative Surplus Value espouses the sympathy for the wage slave that popped up throughout the band’s 2000 release (“I touch my name-tag, should say, ‘HELLO I’M too tired to smile today’”). Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure is a (misspelled?) de facto sequel to Reconstruction Site’s Plea from a Cat Named Virtue and shares its tendency toward crushing depression.

If there’s a complaint to be had about this album it’s that it lacks the hooks that haven’t really been the band’s M.O. since they debuted with Fallow. The album doesn’t have a weak song or a slow spot – an issue that plagued each of their previous two albums. Reunion Tour is their shortest release since Fallow and benefits from it. It’s tight and stops well short of overstaying its welcome, and while some of the talk around the album certainly overstated its experimentalism, it’s still by far the band’s most varied work yet, and, by any standards, a terrific listen.

****½

Buy from Amazon.com : The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour
Buy from Amazon.ca : The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour

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