The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reunion Tour

by Steve Gajadhar

The Weakerthans are one of my favourite Canadian bands (I can’t say favourite, cause there’s just so much darn good Canadian music out there). Couple this with the fact that –as far as I know – the CWC has never reviewed an album, and I have a blog post. This week I’m going to offer up my review of The Weakerthans latest album, Reunion Tour.

Reunion Tour gets an 8.5 out of 10 - score first, in case you’re lazy like me - but this 8.5 is based on Reconstruction Site and Left and Leaving, the band’s previous tour de force records and a couple of the greatest albums, Canadian or otherwise, ever recorded.

John Samson is the front man, and THE man behind The Weakerthans. This isn’t meant as a slight to the other members of the band, only a statement of fact. Samson is a lyrical genius, and though his delivery can become monotonous, the writer in me focuses more on the words and less on the voice. The tracks on Reunion Tour feature a bus driver, Virtute the cat, a medical oddity (perhaps Winnipeg’s own David Reimer?), a young business man at the point of ruin, interpretations of 2 Edward Hopper paintings, a curler, and other obscure characters and dim moments of memory.

‘Tournament of Hearts’ is the highlight for me. I can almost smell the dust under the lounge tables every time I hear it. Samson showcases the fun of two Canadian pastimes – curling and drinking – and yet also illuminates the escapism behind them using allegory to compare the rings of the house to the circular nature of Friday-at-the-club behaviour. Besides, any song that squeezes in a “hurry, hurry hard” is a guaranteed gem. The other tracks are no slouches, and every one has a line or phase that makes you rewind to listen again in awe.

“My confusion-cornered commuters are cursing the cold away
As December tries to dissemble the length of their working day
And they bite their mitts off to show me transfers, deposit change”

"Why, why can't I draw right up to what I want to say?
Why can't I ever stop where I want to stay?
I slide right through the day, I'm always throwing hack weight”

“The full moon makes our faces shine like over-ironed polyester
Then disappears behind the clouds
And leaves me under empty rows of night windows”

Samson uses his lyrics to render longing and melancholy into the tangible and familiar, and he does so in such a way that leaves you feeling happy instead of sad; introspective instead of depressed. And for me, an expat, Samson’s lyrics freshen the paint on my memories of Canada.

I did only give this album an 8.5 and there are a couple of reasons for this. One is the experimental track, ‘Gump Worsley,’ the idea is nice, but I feel spoken word is for poetry readings not rock records. ‘Gump’ breaks the record into halves and that leads to my other gripe: the second half of Reunion Tour doesn’t sustain the quality established in the first half. Imagine listening to a favourite record while having a few drinks. The second half of Reunion Tour is where you fall asleep and spill rum all over yourself. Reunion Tour needs more of the gear changes of Reconstruction Site, or at least an upbeat track to pop the clutch on wakefulness.

As with all great works of art, Reunion Tour only gets better with each helping. There are layers within layers here. Meanings tucked away in the word choices Samson makes - and he knows his words, having championed the last two Canada Reads winners - and the sentences he leaves unfinished. So go get Reunion Tour. It’s an album that deserves to be listened to and The Weakerthans deserve to be recognized by a real Juno instead of Gord Downie busting into a Samson refrain during a Juno performance.


Blogger Anne said...

This is my husband's favourite band, if only because of the lyrics!

Tue Nov 13, 08:16:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Anne said...

Me again. Just last night my husband was saying that he had followed a link from his Google news homepage to an interview with the Weaker Than's that was in (of all tiny publications) the Mcgill University Alumni mag, the Mcgill News. That kind of exposure must have been exciting for the interviewer!

Tue Nov 13, 11:41:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Your rating system reminds me of the old American Bandstand: "I'll give it an 8 because you can dance to it.' And that pretty much gives you a clue as to why I've never heard of Weakerthan. I like the idea of music reviews on the CWC, though, Steve. I might dig out a few of my old vinyls. The 78s and 45s are long gone, you'll be sorry to hear.

So Anne and Steve: is it Weaker Than or Weakerthan?

Wed Nov 14, 11:44:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne said...

Oh, don't go by me!

Thu Nov 15, 07:05:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Weakerthans, Tricia. Though it wasn't until I saw the split that I caught the word play. Heh.

I've never really listened to their albums, but I saw them once in a small club in Vancouver and really enjoyed them. I'll keep an ear out for this one.

Thu Nov 15, 01:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Thanks, all. As with all things art, taste is individual. But definitely give them a listen.

Fri Nov 16, 08:53:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Steve, I went out and picked this up due to your recommendation and I'm really enjoying it!

Wed Dec 05, 08:52:00 am GMT-5  

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