The Weakerthans is an ode to the working and weary. After four years out, the Weakerthans have returned with a wonderfully sculpted album. Politics, love and weariness of everyday existence are in encapsulated in John K. Sampson’s lyrics. As any Weakerthans listener knows, it is the melodies that reel us in but it is the lyrics that make us stay.
Reunion Tour is not so much an evolution from their last album, Reconstruction Site. Rather, Reunion Tour is an extension of Reconstruction Site. The music continues to recede from its punk-rock/pop hook origins, while the melody grows stronger. The obvious extension is “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure”, which builds on the feline perspective of “Plea from a Cat Named Virtute” on Reconstruction Site.
The lead-off song “Civil Twilight” and “Night Windows” are the gems of this album. The thumping beat of “Relative Surplus Value” has the band in rocking form. It is a personable favourite describing the hang-over gloom of a perishing worker. The song “Reunion Tour” sees them fulfilling a requirement for being a Canadian band – a road song.
“Hurry, Hurry hard!” sings Sampson in his ode to curling and drinking in “Tournament of Hearts” enchanting my prairie soul. The spoken word “Elegy for Gump Worsley” continues a sports theme. I can picture Sampson sipping coffee with the phrases “I’m strictly a coffee man” and “my face is my mask” turning in his mind as the former goal tender’s January obituary is splayed in from of him.
Sampson has a way of bringing characters to life, of portraying everyday life. The social commentary is not as apparent on this album. There is no anthemic “I hate Winnipeg”. However, songs like “Hymm of the Medical Oddity”, relating a tale of a snipped penis, the poor decisions of doctors, and text book case of nature over nurture, and “Sun in an Empty Room”, revolving around a low-income family moving out of welfare housing highlight the unfairness of circumstance. From the Virtute the cat, to the bus driver, to the ferry boat operator who saw bigfoot, to the failed business man, one gets the sense that Sampson’s creative space is littered with ghosts – some fictional some real, all his own creation.
I have heard the one complaint – the album is predictable, not enough of a departure from the old. Perhaps this is true, but what a damn fine album it is. I wonder if other great Canadian lyricists like Gordon Lightfoot or Leonard Cohen have had to face down criticisms of writing predictably great songs?