The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

Do you prefer music that makes you happy or makes you sad? What if music that makes you sad . . . makes you happy? I like music that makes me happy. The Beastie Boys make me happy (though I admittedly own no Beastie Boys album). The New York Dolls make me happy. The Star Spangles (you’ll read about them someday) and Mando Diao (ditto) make me happy. But the bands that make me sad, well, they’re the ones that are really special to me.

What I Think of This Album

On the one hand, it’s heartbreaking that this excellent outing is apparently the last Weakerthans album. On the other, it’s entirely appropriate and also, in its own way, a reason to be appreciative. The band gave us four wonderful albums – the poetry of useless graduate degrees, dirty slush on your boots, and the drink you don’t need.

The rueful and observant bus driver who narrates “Civil Twilight” expertly tells the story of his empty work life and his equally empty personal life, and only one of those is his fault. There is nice bit of alliteration in the lyric “Confusion Corner commuters are cursing the cold away.” When John K. Samson sings “this part of the day bewilders me,” it lights up my amygdala. A defeated business traveler (or ex-business traveler, really) lays bare his vulnerabilities on “Relative Surplus Value,” while guitars twist and clash and drummer Jason Tait withstands the build-up of lactic acid in his limbs. “Tournament of Hearts” is set at the intersection of curling (yes, curling), a fundraising raffle, and despair, relying again on Samson’s hyper-specific yet universal lyrics and a rollicking backing (with more fine work from Tait). When Samson declares “Have to stop myself from climbing up on the table full of empties to yell / ‘Why? Why can’t I draw right up to what I want to say?” it’s enough to bring a self-knowing lump to my throat.

The sequel to Reconstruction Site’s “Plea From a Cat Named Virtute” appears in the form of the tragic “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure,” and I really don’t enjoy listening to this song, because the feels are too intense. And I know that it’s a fictional cat, and I don’t even like cats, and just . . . fuck you. The backing vocals of “Sun In An Empty Room” absolutely make this thoughtful (but really, every Weakerthans song is thoughtful) piano-driven number about the spaces we abandon a small charmer, and “Night Windows” is similarly winsome. That both songs uncharacteristically employ chorused backing vocals is not a coincidence. Also, those two song titles are borrowed from artist Edward Hopper, who was name-checked on Reconstruction Site’s “(Hospital Vespers).” “Bigfoot!” is a gentle, sympathetic tune, with some mournful horns, much like “Hymn of the Medical Oddity” (which has zero horns); they communicate a shared examination of the need to be acknowledged and remembered. The title track is a meticulously constructed multi-tiered cake made of keyboards, glockenspiel, flute, and drums that hints at the end of the band. “Utilities” extends the dependency on keyboards to the point of experimentation, before falling back on the familiar ground of guitars. Only “Elegy for Gump Worsley” is a dud.

I hope Virtute is okay. I really do.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Civil Twilight,” a song of and for the lost and lonely.

Release Date

September, 2007

The Cover Art

Pretty good. This is a piece by artist Simon Hughes, a Winnipeg native. It is somehow heartwarming and hopeful even as it communicates danger, isolation, and death.

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