The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Being a literate, intelligent songwriter can be a liability. I can see how people find John K. Samson and his bandmates to be insufferably pretentious and affected, even if I disagree with that characterization. As a culture, we find it acceptable if not admirable to flaunt physical beauty, wealth, athleticism, and even pedigree, but god forbid someone publicizes that they are well-read or interested in serious topics. We have been conditioned to think of intellectualism as something that should be hidden. The Weakerthans rebel against such notions. They both openly telegraph their influences and inspirations – every CD booklet contains multiple quotes from poets, novelists, and academics – and write songs that are unparalleled in their poetic elegance. They take in, and then they give back.

What I Think of This Album

This is my favorite Weakerthans album and also their best (and I am not confident those two things are always the same). The band mostly abandons the slower tempos, opting for more upbeat grooves pretty consistently. This is particularly effective on songs that they might have been tempted to present in less energetic fashion on earlier albums, notably on the three tracks that define the album:  “(Manifest)”; “(Hospital Vespers)”; and “(Past Due).” The three share a melody, and each is a sonnet. Thematically, they detail the interactions and thoughts between a hospitalized cancer patient and their visiting loved one, as the former passes from life into death. “(Manifest)” boasts an emotional trumpet passage from Rusty Matys, while “(Hospital Vespers)” is set to a backwards musical track, and “(Past Due)” rides an omnipresent background hum with intermittent steampunk percussion.

In addition, the uneasy meeting of the historical and the post-modern is humorously recounted in the tom-rolled, guitar-stabbed “Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault).” The band takes a sepia, alt-country path through the “New Name For Everything.” The best song ever from the point of view of a cat is the only way to describe the heartfelt, sympathetic “Plea From a Cat Named Virtute” (which recycles a lyric from debut album Fallow’s “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist”). Another conflict is examined in the lilting, backwards ode to the band’s hometown of Winnipeg, “One Great City!,” which notes “The Guess Who sucked / The Jets were lousy anyway.” Martin Amis is invoked in the delicate “Time’s Arrow” and James Agee is straight up quoted in the booklet on “The Prescience of Dawn.” Muscular “The Reasons” celebrates a healthy relationship (what?!), with syncopated drum hits throughout (but especially at 1:32) that inflate my tiny heart. The title track, full of lap/pedal steel, reminds me a bit of The Long Winters, packed with careful details and redolent of pathos. “Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call” echoes the sentiments of the three sonnets.

As on the first two albums, Canadian poet Catherine Hunter is quoted in the booklet, this time in connection with “Uncorrected Proofs,” which offers some surprisingly metal-ish guitar leads. Sarah Harmer (Neko Case) sings on “Benediction,” and Christine Fellows (also a creative writing professor, and spouse of John K. Samson) plays the piano on “Plea From.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Plea from a Cat Named Virtute” is truly a beautiful, funny, and touching work of art. It’s one of my favorite songs ever.

Release Date

August, 2003

The Cover Art

I find this immensely disturbing; I don’t like looking at it. It is by Canadian artist Marcel Dzama (whose work has also served as album art for Beck and They Might Be Giants).

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