[record review] Constantines - Kensington Heights

Even though I was shut out of hearing the Constantines’ show this week at Mercury Lounge, my anticipation for getting a copy of Kensington Heights was not dulled by that unfortunate turn of events. Those waiting for a CD release still have a few days to go (April 29, Arts & Crafts), but if you’re willing to go the digital route you can purchase the album right now from eMusic, who have the advance.

Now that I’ve (figuratively) spun the record a few times it’s safe to say that Kensington Heights is another tight and tense collection of urgent rockers and slow building ballads from a band that’s shown more in the way of consistency than evolution over their career. I’d put (self-titled debut) The Constantines and Shine A Light up against any hard indie-rock album of the decade, and 2005’s Tournament of Hearts just a notch below. Kensington Heights is probably going to be grouped with and compared to the latter, as it once again finds the band inching away from the aggressive post-punk of those first 2 records to a sound with more nuance and subtlety.

But that’s not to say Kensington Heights forgets to rock, as it does so well on several occasions. Twitchy opener “Hard Feelings” matches anything in their canon - it’s a bracing rocker that downplays its pop-potential for something more in-your-face exciting. The riff that begins “Million Star Hotel” is huge and comes in and out of the mix at all the right moments, and “Trans Canada” is a near robotic track that features an icy cool rhythm on the verses and an explosive vocal on the all-too-brief chorus. The driving pop-rock sound found on past albums (“Soon Enough”, “Young Lions”, etc) is met with “Our Age” and “Credit River”, but the best of the rockers may be “Brother Run Them Down”, a ferocious anti-generational anthem that kicks off the album’s back half.

The slower portion of Kensington Heights has nearly as many high points, beginning with the mid-album “Time Can Be Overcome”, which takes its time to get going, but once it does is not to be missed. You can feel the primordial blues of Bryan Webb’s vocals deep in your bones as he turns in what must be considered amongst his finest performances. Album closer “Do What You Can Do” is just as effective, with the gradual swell of Webb’s positive message not lost among an intensely dynamic band performance. And the acoustic “New King” surprises in its directness, if not its earnest lyrics about a family trying to make it through some hard times.

The heights referenced in the album title isn’t the sound of Constantines reaching new ones, just the same ones for the fourth time around. Again the band is far more positive in their over-arching themes than most of their gloomy peers - not so much shiny happy people as able to make you feel united with others against the trials of everyday living. Long since past needing the Springsteen/Clash/Fugazi comparisons to make people listen, with Kensington Heights the Constantines have delivered another solid batch of rousing rock n’ roll songs to sing along with alone after a hard day at work or collectively with friends on Saturday night.

MP3 :: Hard Feelings
(from Kensington Heights. Buy here)
(from Tournament of Hearts. Buy here)
MP3 :: On To You
(from Shine A Light. Buy here)

MP3 :: Arizona
(from Constantines. Buy here)


JK said...

Hey man, I was at the Mercury show. Sorry to hear things didn't work out. It was my first time seeing the Cons and I've become a huge fan of theirs over the last couple of years. The crowd was a little subdued, likely due to the early start time but they still rocked it. They played about 6 songs from the new album but unfortunately, no "Our Age." Appreciated the album review, thanks. It amazes me that this band is not bigger...

Jeff said...

Great album, but I would disagree with you in that i think it is a step forward. This album just seems more epic. More expansive. Anyway, awesome band.

James said...

yeah - the mercury show thing pissed me off. wished i had seen the show. oh well, next time.

jeff - fair enough, you're probably right, maybe there is a bit more of an epic feel to this one. i really like it a lot so far, which wasn't true for tournament of hearts at first. that one took a while to grow on me. i think start to finish this is better than that one, but not quite as great as the first 2. close though.