The Weakerthans – Fallow

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I have seen the Weakerthans live once. I saw the ad in the paper (or online (whatever)), and decided not to buy tickets in advance. The (new) Bottom Lounge holds maybe 500 people (? – I am bad at that) and I figured, “who the hell even knows the Weakerthans?” The good news is, I was wrong – it turns out a lot of people even know the Weakerthans. The bad news is, I was wrong – it turns out a lot of people even know the Weakerthans and thus the show was sold out, save for the higher priced VIP seating option. This was problematic. I had no objection to spending the money to get it – I had already sunk costs into arriving at the door, I very much wanted to see the band, and I had no real confidence that they were going to tour again soon. The obstacles were that I bristle at the notion of VIP seating, and also that such capitalist price structuring (to say nothing of the labeling) runs counter to the Weakerthans’ principles as well. I paid the extra money. The VIP seating was an elevated, enclosed platform at the back of the venue with cushioned stools and a private bar. I don’t usually drink at shows, I like being close to the stage, and I don’t think anybody who doesn’t need to sit should ever sit at a rock concert. So, basically I paid for amenities that added no value to my experience, but that’s okay. I got to see the band and I helped fund a venue that does a good job of bringing in acts I like.

What I Think of This Album

The personal is political is poetical. John K. Sampson leads his bandmates through what is essentially a series of short stories set to music. Sampson’s voice and vision thoroughly dominate the album (and the band), as does his history in lefty punk band Propoghandi, and his fiercely Canadian pride. The booklet opens with a quote from Manitoban intellectual, novelist, and poet Catherine Hunter reflecting on the difficult nature of existing, paired with a quote from British Columbian writer and academic Tom Wayman about the individual and collective strength of the downtrodden. The booklet ends with informational text about anarchist and socialist press and literature. In between are twelve clear-eyed vignettes about small moments and big ideas, whose lyrics are printed on top of graphics of a Winnipeg street map.

Some songs are spare (“Illustrated Bible Stories for Children”; “The Last Last One”) and some are more enthusiastically indie-pop (“Diagnosis”; “Wellington’s Wednesdays”). Meanwhile, the lyrical references meander from Milton’s Samson Agoniste to disco group Boney M. to P.G. Wodehouse to New Order’s “Temptation.” I have a preference for the faster, poppier songs. “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist”  brilliantly captures the dreary intersection of interpersonal relationships, political consciousness, and the practical realities of getting through the day:  “Leave the apartment to buy alcohol / Hang our diplomas on the bathroom wall / Pick at the plaster chipped away / Survey some stunning tooth decay / Enlist the cat in the impending class war/ Let’s lay our bad day down here, dear / Let’s make believe we’re strong / Or hum some protest song.” Drummer Jason Tait beats the hell out of the kit on this number. Guest Roberta Dempster adds some welcome backing vocals on the tunefully desperate “Letter of Resignation.” The highlight is the nervy, throbbing “Wellington’s Wednesdays,” a half-sad ode to seeking solace in live music (and specifically at Wellington’s, a punk club in Winnipeg that closed in 2001). The frustration of an inability to connect comes through on the heartfelt “Greatest Hits Collection.” And there is an appealing muscularity to the story of a solitary person coming to a solitary end in “Anchorless.” But don’t sleep on the quiet tunes, as “None of the Above” is sweetly sad, and “Sounds Familiar” is evocative, intelligent, and lyrical. “Letter of Resignation” and “Anchorless” had appeared on Propaghandi releases.

The Best Thing About This Album

The incorporation of the lyrics from “Temptation” – possibly the very best New Order song – into “Wellington’s Wednesdays” has been known to make me smile broadly.

Release Date

1997 (Canada); 1999 (U.S.)

The Cover Art

Simple, but effective.

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