Something of a cult phenomenon, erudite Winnipeg The Weakerthans have always been the aural equivalent of a Wes Anderson film; crafting tunefully brash tales of absurdly humane characters wrapped in urbane melodrama and possessing more brains than balls. To their devoted minions, their return after a four year absence is reason for jubilant celebration, and even if Reunion Tour doesn't necessarily herald a new era of their existence, it nevertheless retains all of the gleefully quirky elements that have drawn loveable (and lovelorn) literate losers to them for the better part of a decade - namely, John K. Samson's unmistakable croon and wistful tales of everyday people cast as the protagonists in tragic steel town vignettes that never quite turn out the way you'd expect.
Reunion Show is graced with some classic Samson gems, including the reverb-and-tremolo swathed "Relative Surplus Value", which finds him deadpanning about a "Heart pumping pure mini-bar" as he unfurls the peculiar story of a business trip gone awry. "Virtue the Cat Explains Her Departure" is the continuation of Reconstruction Site's "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue", a solemn saga in which the feline constantly chides its owner for his slothful ways, but now finds itself ruminating on the good and bad times they had before its exodus. "Elegy for Gump Worsley" finds Samson rhapsodizing about the foibles that characterized the recently deceased NHL goalkeeping legend, even working Worsley's trademark, "My face is my mask" in as loving tribute.
While there's nothing as urgent as (Left and Leaving's) "Aside" or "Watermark" on display here, for a band, not to mention an album, as idiosyncratic as this, it's the quieter moments that shine the brightest; despite its exclamatory title, "Bigfoot!" wafts along on a mournful strum and funereal brass, contemplating the loneliness of the Pacific Northwest's most elusive specimen, while the terse, martial cadence of the titular title-track provides a solid backdrop for Samson's plaintive murmur, rather than signaling a full guitar-blown uprising over the horizon. In fact, while this is arguably the band's most measured album, the level of detail with which the songs have been crafted is dizzying, integrating everything from marching band waltzes (the title-track), to twilight-dusted country serenades ("Elegy for Gump Worsley") and dour gothic folk ("Bigfoot!").
Samson's references are still as vague as ever, yet his characters continue to revel in their shortcomings rather than be consumed, or for that matter, defined by them, which makes them pitiable, but ultimately, strangely triumphant. Perhaps the same can be said for The Weakerthans themselves, because when Samson coos, "And the heart is a badly built bridge" midway through "Utilities", you can't help but wonder if he's referencing himself and his band's heartfelt, if somewhat shambolic, demeanor. As comebacks for bands that never really left go, Reunion Tour is solid front to back, not to mention a lot more impassioned and inspired than a bunch of corpulent millionaires (KISS and GNR we're looking at you) flogging the greatest hits for all they're worth.
Reunion Tour out September 25th.