The Constantines – Shine a Light

The Constantines
Shine a Light

A spacey beep opens and betrays Shine a Light; this album is neither lavish production nor modern space-rock. No, it’s something entirely different indeed. One could argue that rock music has been the most influential single genre on the mainstream in the last 30 years, and one probably wouldn’t be contested. But something has gone horribly awry since the advent of MTV (I know, I’m so predictable); rock has become more image than substance, more posturing than punishing, more Good Charlotte than Led Zeppelin. But image-rock is on its way out, and major record labels have been searching tirelessly for the remedy to the “last big thing,” and they have certainly overlooked one possibility: saviors of rock as we know it, the Constantines.
But perhaps this pill is just a little too jagged for the everyman’s ears. Dry, angular guitars twist and mesh; massive, bare drums pummel; but most of all, Bry Webb’s rough, too-many-Marlboros voice crowns this Caesar with a threateningly thorny (and shamelessly unmarketable) wreath. But no one said great music was easy, and the Cons take the road more traveled and rough it up to restore the appeal it once had.
The Constantines absolutely peal through “National Hum” and immediately apparent are the edges left unsmoothed. The Cons obviously aren’t messing around; they’re on a mission to resurrect rock. “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright)” slithers its way into a pounding showcase of fantastic urban poetry: “It’s hard not to surrender / but I will dance down through the alleyways / with one foot in the gutter / the city is my sister / and the nighttime is my lover.” Here, the ubiquitous-but-effective description of their sound as Bruce Springsteen meets Fugazi is fully realized. The Cons hybridize Springsteen’s urban poetry with Fugazi’s angular post-punk to create something not unheard of but completely unparalleled.
The most notable change from their self-titled (and excellent) debut album is the addition of Will Kidman on keyboards. While the keys definitely serve to flesh out their sound on songs such as “Insectivora,” they also sometimes smooth the corners a bit too much and detract from the edge so vital to the Cons’ sound.
This becomes a minor complaint, however, as the rest of the album unfolds. “Young Lions” is classic rock infused with modern post-punk, and the Cons handle the stylistic collision with great agility. “Tiger & Crane” is a perfect concoction of Apes and Spoon without sounding anything like either. But it’s the somewhat more suppressed moments in “Goodbye Baby and Amen” and “On to You” that really ground the album. The former features Webb feebly crooning over sparse, plucked chords. The drums struggle not to overpower the delicate keyboards and brittle horns. It’s a moment of absolute balance and epiphany: you don’t necessarily have to be hard to rock. “On to You” immediately follows, showcasing the Constantine’s most balladic work yet; Webb mixes equal parts rasp and croon, and instead of simply fleshing out their sound, Kidman’s keyboards add just a little bit of sugary pop to the melody. It’s a natural progression from their debut, to be sure, but it also manages to pleasantly surprise.
Shine a Light doesn’t defy genres; it defies poseurs. It isn’t fashionable; it’s a staple. Only what the Constantines accomplished with their debut could culminate in such revelations as “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright),” “On to You,” and “Sub-Domestic.” Instead of abandoning musical conventions, the Cons embrace the best of rock’s Valhalla and stitch a patchwork of influences into something worth more than a sum of its parts. What better tribute to a genre than a perfect summary of itself?