The Constantines – Tournament of Hearts

The Constantines
Tournament of Hearts

When I first heard The Constantines a couple of years back, they were showing all the signs of a “next big thing” band with unanimous praise, a nice, convenient sound that didn’t require too much time to warm up to, and plenty of bands to hold up for reference. In case you’ve never read any of the reviews of Shine a Light, the following terms and names were bound to come up at least once every three sentences: The Clash (and Joe Strummer), Fugazi (and Ian MacKaye), Dishcord, angular guitars, Springsteen, and perhaps even the ubiquitous yet controversial “saviors of modern rock.” How many of these are fitting? Honestly, with the exception of the last one (or maybe not?), all. To be fair, though, The Constantines are not nearly as derivative as so many publications made them out to be.

Tournament of Hearts, two years removed from the album that garnered such massive praise, holds key aspects of their old sound but smooths a lot of rough patches to make for an easier listening experience. The album opens with hazy, warped guitar fuzz for a moment, not what one would expect at all, but only until you’re assaulted by a forceful drum beat and what sounds like the indie-rock reincarnation of Bruce Springsteen. Bryan Webb sings “Let the land move its people / And draw us lines from its fiery designs” in a mix of equal parts might, rasp, and ambition. The song is gleefully optimistic, especially in comparison to much of the apprehension found in the lyrics from Shine a Light, and it sets the album off in the right direction.

“Working Fulltime” is rough and at the same time sounds as if the group has a definite classic-rock influence. Speaking of classic rock, the fifth offering on the album, “Soon Enough,” evokes more from Springsteen than just the vocals like on other songs; the track seems like it would feel just as at home on Born in the USA as it does on Tournament. Vocals are switched up, and with great results, on the suave “Thieves,” which is driven by an up-tempo drum beat and creeping, muted guitars, and it is accentuated by well-placed keyboard notes and a sultry saxophone. This song, along with the next two that close the album, make for the most enjoyable block of music on Tournament. “You are a Conductor,” the stand-out moment on the disc, features the same forcible drum alongside dirge-like, heavy guitars chords. Lines such as “There’s a little bit of evil in everything” perform a great duty in adding to the already prominent atmosphere of the song. The final cut is an atypical, touching acoustic piece, having a very bare-bones structure and sounding a bit like the acoustic, personal tracks from bands like Eric’s Trip.

My major complaint with the album is that the songs are far too short to provide an optimal listening experience. The longest song clocks in at just over four minutes. They all run their course in the alloted time and don’t feel underdeveloped, but they just aren’t nearly as fulfilling as they could have been had things been stretched out. The Constantines don’t really tread any new ground, either, but they do a terrific job at making the listener excited about what is present. Tournament of Hearts is more than enough to make audiences anxious for a future release.