Release Date: Apr 29, 2008
Record label: Arts & Crafts
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Anyone who copped the Hard Feelings single a few months back knew in their gut there was goodness on the horizon from hometown heroes the Constantines. The hard-driving first track off Kensington Heights, named after their Kensington Market rehearsal space (whose exact location they reveal if you read the acknowledgements closely enough) is indicative of the record’s explosive, anguished vibe. Singer Bry Webb, sounding slightly less gravelly and more confident in his higher pitch, guides the group’s emotional range from the slow-burning, introspective Time Can Be Overcome to the pounding wallop of Brother Run Them Down.
Kensington Heights is the Constantines' first album for the respected Canadian imprint Arts & Crafts, and, unfortunately, it's also the first of their albums that doesn't improve upon what they've done before. At their best, the Constantines are untouchable at bringing new life and fire to hard-charging, straightforward rock, and albums like Shine a Light and Tournament of Hearts were filled with songs that were as agile as they were searching and anthemic. On Kensington Heights, all the elements that usually make the band great seem to be in place -- the guitars charge, the drums and keyboards are insistent, and Bryan Webb's vocals are as gravelly and earnest as ever.
Constantines are a throwback act, one of those anthemic rock bands that inspire equal parts nostalgia and devotion. Lead singer Bryan Webb has that raspy tenor reminiscent of Springsteen, Westerberg and Bachmann, and like all of them, he gets a surprising amount of range from a voice that always sounds like it’s about to break. Steve Lambke, the other guitar player and singer in the band, occasionally counterpoints Webb with his own higher, reedy vocals.
The Constantines have always come across as a hard-working outfit, but on the 12-track Kensington Heights, they seem for the first time to be working far too hard for it. The fourth LP from this gritty Toronto five-piece offers a few genuine gems sprinkled among many more tracks borne out of blue-collar blood, sweat and tears. “Hard Feelings,” a headstrong rush of rhythmic experimentation that sounds like a thousand coiled springs let loose in succession, launches the record with twin electric guitars scrapping for lead billing over a long-division time signature.