Three jobs, never really a day off, always something else to do; but I'm educated, working toward a higher degree, creating, making and digging my way out of debt. This is the life of the 20-something in the 21st century: no career to speak of, no sure grand trajectory, just a few ideals left, struggling to construct a definition.
Toronto by way of Guelph, Ontario, musicians the Constantines understand. Blue-collar images and sensibilities and the terror and awe of living and working in a world that doesn't seem sustainable--these all soak their songs. The band often gets compared to Fugazi and Bruce Springsteen because of this, but on Tournament of Hearts, the Constantines' sound turns decidedly more Peter Gabriel than Ian MacKaye, more mature and aware. Wrote guitarist and vocalist Steve Lambke via e-mail from Spain, where the Constantines were currently on tour, "(Tournament of Hearts is) sexier. It's more melodic. It's less angst-ridden, but more anxious. There's a different love in its bones and a different fear. It's open and windblown. It's overrun with desire. It's certainly more experienced."
Like with any job, the more experience, the better; the hard work and experience put into Tournament of Hearts secretes from the songs' pores. No song is even remotely alike: The grate of "Draw Us Lines" and "Hotline Operator" gives way to heavy droning on "Lizaveta," and then "Soon Enough" strips way down to weepy. "Working Full-Time" bleeds British pop, and then "Thieves" is a less-pissed Modest Mouse. "You Are a Conductor" blasts through the speakers with its hypnotic refrains, but "Windy Road" can be barely heard over the hum of the air conditioner.
Wrote Lambke about the variety of songs: "We do want them all to be unique. To stand on their own. We want them all to be great. We like playing different ways. I'm glad that the songs sound different. We want people to listen through the records and not get tired of one sound."
This kind of lilting prose is echoed in their music. Like poetry, where every word is chosen and placed purposefully, every note, lyric and dynamic in a Constantines song is carefully considered. The space between parts and notes gives the songs a sustained energy--there's room to step inside, sit down, relax and then get up and thrash your limbs about when the moment is right. Tensions are expressed and released. "Love in Fear" requests us to "love despite the strange winds blowing," and "Soon Enough" assures that "years from now, they will make water, from the reservoirs of our idiot temples." The album opens with "Draw Us Lines," a song that gradually builds on a foundation of marching punk drums into an anthem of optimism and fear. The guitars grate and feed back, and by the time guitarist and vocalist Bryan Webb quietly chants, "Bad weather, anxiety and fear, don't give in, call on hope / and live in fascination, fascination forever," if you're not ready to give yourself wholly to the Constantines, then you're not really listening.
"The idea was to play fast and exciting," wrote Lambke about the band's inception. "The goal has always been to be true. A lot of the songs were about starting a band. We were swinging with an independent spirit. We were young and desperate. We've always been tender at heart."
And hard working, always something to do, never finished, projecting that anxiety and constructing a hope and assurance in every song.