The Canadian combo Propagandhi played biting, radically political polemics wedded to a relentless pop-punk backing. Now, former Propagahdhi bassist John Sampson is the leader of the Weakerthans, and he writes songs from the point of view of his cat. But before you label Sampson a sellout, a softie, or whatever else, take a listen to Reconstruction Site, his band's latest release. It's an outstanding piece of work -- literate, catchy, and emotional. And the feline-centered song in question, "A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue", is, against all odds, one of the best songs Sampson's ever written."
The politics aren't all gone, either. It's just that Sampson is no longer writing from the two-dimensional Angry Young Man stance he previously took. On Reconstruction Site, the political commentary slips in subtly, in a way that feels more mature. In "Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call" the narrator, drunk at the end of a long night, imagines "a picture of our leader / with a halo made of smoke." And "One Great City!" surveys the dire socioeconomic condition of the Weakerthans' hometown: "Our golden business boy will watch the North End die / and sing 'I love this town' / then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim 'I hate Winnipeg.'"
Sonically, Reconstruction Site is the band's most varied work, with multi-instrumentalist Stephen Carroll contributing lap and pedal steel, keyboards, and piano throughout. The album's only misstep is the somewhat useless backwards-tape-based "Hospital Vespers", which is a distracting experiment better consigned to a b-side. Aside from that, Reconstruction Site may well be the Weakerthans at the peak of their considerable powers.