Rock 'n roll. You don't see it written out very often anymore. Even more rarely will you hear the full phrase. We've all made the transition to just "rock." What was once an offensive, aggressive, scandalous name for offensive, aggressive, scandalous music now sounds quaint. Look at that "'n." About as gritty and down-to-earth as the "o'" o'clock Not that the music lost its bite—after all, you have any number of moralizers outraged by punk rock, death rock, or heavy metal rock (and plenty of connoisseurs outraged by emo rock, alternative rock, lite rock, dance rock, or rap rock). But rock 'n roll as a whole can't be counted on to get you rocking and rolling anymore, whether with passion, lust, condemnation, or any other heart-searing human emotion. The fire's no longer in the form. Every new band that comes to the music has to get it burning again.

The Constantines are Steve Lambke, Bryan Webb, Doug MacGregor, Dallas Wehrle, and Whil Kidman. The Constantines is an album that came packaged with a strike-anywhere match under a corrugated wrapping with the quote, "The cardboard was lifted from alleys and dumpsters... wherever we could find it. We cut it, stamped it, and assembled the packaging." The Constantines are rock 'n roll. They're dead-set on shaking things up and burning things down. There's no irony, no self-referentiality, no knowing winks or sly nods. If you're looking for similarities, you'll find they sound closest to bands like Fugazi or The Replacements, with more traditional roots in the sound Neil Diamond or Bruce Springsteen. They sincerely and defiantly demand you to see that ugly is beautiful, awkward is graceful, and hell-bent is serene. Their lyrics are rough tales of working-class lovers, thieves, and losers surviving on blind luck. Their music is a hailstorm of filthy guitars and sex-swollen drums running on pure, distilled booze and nicotine. They're pumping their fists in the air at everything broken in the world, and if you're too clued-up to join in, you can get the fuck out. "We're gonna sing sing sing to all the dirty little angels / As long as we're lonely, we will dance / As long as we're dying, we want the death of rock 'n roll," front singer Webb yells out on "Arizona," the first track of their self-titled album. They throw one hell of a wake.

The Constantines was first formed in Guelph in 1999. Just as they wear their hearts up and down their sleeves, The Constantines also wear their Canadian origin proudly. This is not music made with American needs in mind. They sing of home, of parties in Scarborough and punks in Toronto and weird, worried winds blowing out from Ottawa. Their first release in 2000 landed them a Juno Awards nomination and critical lauds for the sound--grungy guitars, thick pounding drums, husky vocals, drunken poetry--everything you'd want to find in an indie rocker's dream dive bar. Their second full-length release in 2003, Shine a Light, came stateside with Sub Pop records, as well as their latest (October, 2005), Tournament of Hearts.

The self-titled album itself is astonishing for its balance, coherence, and variety as a first release. It's hard for me to pick stand-outs. All these songs seem to just fit, without any one blending into the next. There's the high-strumming tension of "Arizona," with its mix of ballad and tirade against suicidal rock legend Danny Rapp. But then there's the languid, melancholy acoustic piece "St. You," where Webb sings almost conversationally, "Who you calling on? / Who's calling you? / I'm soaked in kerosene / This is no gentleman's blues." There's the lyrical acrobatics of the can-kicking, brick-wall punching "Some Party" as the whole band yells, "Storm the Bastille / Raid the throne / Mock the swine who'll rot in heaven / Swinging on the velvet ropes / Some punks getting some kicks at some party." But then there's the instrumental ecstasy of the connected numbers "The McKnight Life" and "Steal This Sound," which begins with post rock noise-and-signal bit that builds under tension pressure to an explosion of mindblowing rock 'n roll as Webb chants, "Soon as they turn out the lights / Cradle's gonna rock tonight!"

The Constantines is an album that blows the trumpets (often literally) for the triumph of grit, grime, and passion. While more than my fair share of favorite bands would roll their eyes at that sort of naivete, it's sure as hell welcome.


The Constantines

Release date:June 5, 2001 (Limited to 1000 copies)
Label: Three Gut Records (Canada)
Run time: 43 minutes 54 seconds
Track list:
  1. Arizona - 4:15
  2. The Long Distance Four - 2:23
  3. Some Party - 3:19
  4. Young Offenders - 3:44
  5. Justice - 4:14
  6. Seven A.M. - 4:04
  7. No Ecstasy - 2:09
  8. Hyacinth Blues - 3:25
  9. St. You - 3:22
  10. The McKnight Life - 2:46
  11. Steal This Sound - 3:24
  12. To The Lullabies - 2:30
  13. Little Instrument - 3:19

The Modern Sinner Nervous Man (EP)

Release date: April 4th, 2002
Label: Suicide Squeeze
Run time: 11 minutes 58 seconds
Track list:
  1. Dirty Business - 3:28
  2. Underneath the Stop Signs - 4:47
  3. Blind Luck - 3:43

Nighttime / Anytime (EP)

Release date:July 8th, 2003
Label: Sub Pop Records
Track list:
  1. Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright) - 4:13
  2. Tank Commander (Hung Up in a Warehouse Town) - 4:02
  3. Thank You for Sending Me an Angel (Talking Heads cover) - 1:57
  4. Hotline Operator - 6:55 (this is instrumental, no relation to Tournament of Heart's "Hotline Operator")

Shine a Light

Release date: August 19, 2003
Label:Three Gut Records (Canada), Sub Pop Records (U.S. and Europe)
Run time: 46 minutes 19 seconds
Track list:
  1. National Hum - 2:49
  2. Shine a Light - 4:47
  3. Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright) - 4:13
  4. Insectivora - 3:56
  5. Young Lines - 3:50
  6. Goodbye Baby & Amen - 4:57
  7. On to You - 4:36
  8. Poison - 3:36
  9. Scoundrel Babes - 2:44
  10. Tiger & Crane - 3:13
  11. Tank Commander (Hung Up in a Warehouse Town) - 4:02
  12. Sub-Domestic - 3:36

Tournament of Hearts

Release date: September 27th, 2005 (Canada), October 11th, 2005 (U.S. and Europe)
Label: Three Gut Records (Canada), Sub Pop Records (U.S. and Europe)
Run time: 36 minutes 47 seconds
Track list:
  1. Draw Us Lines - 4:16
  2. Hotline Operator - 3:39
  3. Love in Fear - 3:66
  4. Lizaveta - 3:34
  5. Soon Enough - 4:00
  6. Working Full Time - 3:56
  7. Good Nurse - 3:29
  8. Thieves - 3:30
  9. You Are a Conductor - 3:59
  10. Windy Road - 2:29

We make out with all we've got. We've got an amplifier.

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