Home Read Classic Album Review: The Weakerthans | Watermark CD-Single

Classic Album Review: The Weakerthans | Watermark CD-Single

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This came out two decades ago. Here’s what I had to say about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


At first, it’s kind of weird to wrap your head around the notion of a Weakerthans CD-single.

These days, after all, singles are usually less about music and more about marketing. Ever since the pop charts were commandeered by bubble-pop boy bands and carbon-copy dance-music outfits, it seems the once-proud single has been reduced to the lowest rung of the musical ladder — a cheap bauble churned out to generate airplay and squeeze a few more bucks out of the fans. Gone are the days of unreleased B-sides and live cuts; nowadays, your typical single holds the radio version of the tune being flogged and pointless, space-filling remixes by DJs nobody’s heard of or cares about.

Of course, punk rock singles have always been different. In many cases, they’re the main means of communication between small-time independent bands (who can’t afford to record and distribute an entire album) and their teenage fans (who can’t afford to blow all the bucks a full CD costs). And it’s not like a lot of punk bands are deluding themselves about getting their music on the radio. So they have the freedom to use their singles to their fullest potential. They can experiment with different sounds and songs. They can keep an audio scrapbook of live tracks and other songs that might fall through the cracks. They can woo new fans with an inexpensive calling-card. Or they can reward the faithful with obscure tracks and extra goodies.

That seems to be what Winnipeg post-punk quartet The Weakerthans are aiming for with the CD-single of Watermark, one of the rockier tracks from last year’s deservedly praised album Left and Leaving. First, naturally, comes that track, an exceptional slice of intelligent pop-punk whose chugging, propulsive guitar lines and instantly hummable melody are so perfect that you won’t mind (or most likely even notice) that the tune doesn’t really have a chorus.

Outstanding as Watermark is, it’s really the appetizer for the other two tracks here, a pair of live ballads recorded at the band’s Watermark video release party. Both tracks — Illustrated Bible Stories for Children and The Last Last One — come from the band’s previous disc Fallow. Both find The Weakerthans — singer-guitarist and songwriter John K. Samson, drummer Jason Tait, bassist John Sutton and second guitarist Stephen Carroll — accompanied by mandolins and accordions that give these songs a homespun, chamber-folky intimacy. Both prove the band are just as comfortable with gentle melody and melancholy as with rugged, adrenaline-fuelled punk. And they make it even clearer that Samson is one of the most talented and distinctive songwriters this city has produced in the past decade.

Besides the audio tracks, the single also houses a multi-media portion containing the Watermark video, an artsy, locally produced clip with the band cut up and reassembled into mosaic-tile squares. If you don’t wanna watch the musicians, you can play spot the local landmarks — there’s the Walker Theatre; is that the Arlington Bridge? — in the background.

Sure, a few more tunes — maybe even an extra studio track or two — woulda been nice. But all in all, not bad for a single.