Friday, November 16, 2007

Time Just Moves Slower in Canada

The Weakerthans’ newest album is a sore hangover. I don’t mean this as a description of the character or content of “Reunion Tour,” but rather more in the acute sense upon waking up that- even more than that bottom-shelf bourbon- you have something to regret. Now, nearly three months after its initial release, conversation across the internet and in its extra-dimensional facsimile has turned from a general praise for the band's demonstrated ability to pen credible anthems for the educated everyman into a general disinterest in even hearing such once-tantalizing prospects as new entries in the “Elegy” and “Hymn” song sets, or the return appearance of Virtue the cat. Somewhere in the four years passed since their frequently praised last album, “Reconstruction Site,” this band of learned Winnipeggers (not a slur), once beloved attendants of the shared ennui of suburban nonrenewal, have become posterchildren for our inability to take pleasure in what we ought to value most: the commonly great.And no, “Reunion Tour” is not that great of an album. However, my initial reaction upon first listen was almost identical to the first time I heard “Reconstruction Site,” or “Left and Leaving,” or “Fallow.” I found melodies that worked their way into the deepest recesses of my brain, chord progressions both familiar and catchy, variety in songwriting and instrumentation, and convincingly high-quality lyricism, just as I have come to expect of John K. Samson and co. Indeed once was enough to recognize this record, like the three that preceded it, should certainly fill out any proper list of the most utilitarian of indie rock releases of the year. The entire Weakerthans’ discography seems faithfully built to earn repeated play for being both enjoyable and (mostly) non-challenging, with plenty enough sturdy contruction and delivery prowess to deserve both our attention and our affection.

So why the tepid reception for the predictably decent “Reunion Tour?” Have the band in some capacity offended? No, our plucky canucks committed no crime greater than having somehow become hoplessly, cripplingly uncool compared to all the nifty new bands who have sprung up in their absence. None of them has been subsumed into any bizarrely specific role as niche percussionists in the New Pornographers or Broken Social Scene. There are no YouTube Blogoteque videos of Indie Prodigy-Du-Jour singing a beloved album cut. In fact, the single greatest criticism of the album that I could assess is that it is “merely” good in the same way that every Weakerthans record has been, as though all that was preventing "Reunion Tour" from ascending the ranks into thepantheon of All-Time-Greats was a some minor novelty that probably would have grown tiresome and detracted from its value eventually anyway.

Coolness-as-commodity is as deeply inundated into our general culture as it is pronounced in our music-snobbery subculture. This weekend, a Discovery Channel Programming Event caused me to become what I can only assume was the first person ever to watch “Planet Earth” while not high. In one segment, the narrator impresses us with the claim that though there more than a thousand species of lovely birds of paradise like the ones we were shown, the Bluebird of Paradise was now to be seen for the first time in recorded history. And when the small, azure avian was finally shown, I was struck immediately by how… ordinary it seemed. Compared to its more “common” cousins, the Bluebird was plain in every way, and I immediately longed for more high-def shots of cascading ornamental plumes and dazzling, multi-hues tails.

Certainly we know that scarcity does not equate to quality. Blood diamonds aren’t any shinier than cubic zirconia. We don’t need every Bowie CD reissue to reveal yet another of the 3,000 versions of “John, I’m Only Dancing” from 1972. And we don’t need to know what was said in the 18½ minute gap to know that Nixon was an evil motherfucker. Following the millenia of years of evolution prior to the Blue Bird of Paradise’s debut to humanity, the little thing couldn’t help but dissapoint- it was just a fucking bird, man. It wanted nothing in life but to eat some bugs and to never be described as “extra tasty crispy.”

And this is exactly the problem that the Weakerthans face. We claim to love the uheralded genius, yet our ardor for the Next New Thing puts our discoveries on a clock, with the demand of new iterations of themselves to be produced regularly, lest we be not entertained. The lucky bands assure themselves at least another 15 minutes. The unlucky seem to get less than 15 seconds. The irony in this of course is that rarely, if ever, are we capable of loving the next installment of our favorites as much as we did our firsts. Our most lasting impressions of the music say as much about ourselves of the time and place of our initial discovery of it as anything else. Our nature as snobs is to fetishize and promote our discoveries until they attain a personalized mythology we see as befitting our feelings about their work, but it is within the unabashed thrill of that moment that we develope sentimental attatchments to an artist, and exactly those attatchments are what render impossible any hope of ever loving their later works.

But we’ll come back to you, Weakerthans, because your consistency transcends all. The brightest burning may flame out fast, but the consistently good never have to fade away. We the faithful will carry your torch and abide the waiting with saintly patience, because we know that your getting a fair shot ever again will be a miracle.

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