I stumbled upon The Weakerthans in a since closed record store in colorful Hillcrest San Diego some time around 2005 and I fell in love with them. Founded by the former guitarist of political punk rockers Propaghandi, they leave behind that cacophonous edge for melodic pop written with emphatic empathy and hope for tomorrow.
I fell in love with the characters in their songs and the minute details that bind together into massive metaphor. “Civil Twilight,” the album opener comes from the p.o.v. of a tollbooth operator seeing the face of lost love in angry drivers. The theme of longing and missed opportunity runs through the album as does a rivulet of alcohol; there are “empties” drained of alcohol and meaning; empty windows looked out of and into for signs of life often nothing more than a lamp or a few blades of sunlight and then there is the continuation of Virtue’s saga.
Virtue is a cat. On Reconstruction Site (2005), Virtue tells the story of her depressed owner. She watches helplessly as the owner slips into depression and does her cat best to encourage coming up with party plans and finally telling him that she’ll bite him “to taste his tinny blood / if he doesn’t give up the self-defeating lies.” In the Reunion Tour continuation “Virtue Explains her Departure,” the cat describes the love the owner and herself developed but that even love can be taken for granted on both sides and while Virtue “can’t remember the sound” her owner “had found” for her, the owner could never quite escape the depression he had in the first place leaving the wide open night full of “fights with Tabbies” and “abandoned machines” a more welcome place for Virtue than the silent house. Possibly the plot of a Disney movie, I know but dealt with a tenderness that The Weakerthans have been developing for a decade.
The Weakerthans have garnered a great deal of critical praise and commercial fame in their homeland of Canada (Left and Leaving made many “best of” album lists) but have remained underexposed in the states and as such might be something worth stumbling upon. Pop-rock sound with profundity in the simplicity of their lyrics, they are well deserving of a few listens.
For cherry pickers (see: Bo Liebman’s song of the weekers):
From Fallow (1997)- “Illustrated Bible Stories for Children,” “Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist”
From Left and Leaving (2000)- “Without Mythologies,” “Pamphleteer,” “My Favorite Chords”
From Reconstruction Site (2005)- “(Manifest),” “(Hospital Vespers),” “One Great City!” “Reconstruction Site”