Idol Chatter

Have you noticed? There’s an intake of fresh oxygen being sucked into the collective lungs of Christians who love music. It’s finally time, it seems, for genuine Christian engagement with pop music – any pop music, made by anybody, sold anywhere. Christians are abandoning the “Christian-Bookstore-sez-it’s-OK-to-buy-this” model and seeking out music that is worth listening to and spiritually edifying, whether it is made by Christians, or marketed to Christians, or not.

And so what an ideal time for “Reunion Tour,” the fourth album by the Weakerthans, an incredibly smart, literate, and punchy powerpop band from Winnnipeg, Manitoba. Their frontman, John K. Samson, was raised Mennonite, and although he no longer claims the faith (having taken up instead with liberal political causes), his songs are compassionate, careful portraits of people who believe in things, even when those beliefs are frustrated or seem futile.
What’s remarkable about “Reunion Tour” is not just how Samson takes the beliefs of his characters seriously, without making them caricatures, but the kindness and care – the genuine love – with which he gives them voices and bodies, even when they are pitiful or pitiable. The ruined businessman of “Relative Surplus Value,” the washed-up curling (yes, curling) hero-turned-barfly of “Tournament of Hearts,” even a runaway housecat on the album’s saddest song (a sequel to “Plea From a Cat Named Virtue” from the last Weakerthans album) – all of these characters would be punchlines to a less charitable lyricist, but in Samson’s hands they are beautiful and fragile human beings.
Several songs on the album are outright prayers. “Hymn of the Medical Oddity” is based on the sad story of David Reimer, a Winnipeg man who was forced to live his life as a woman due to a botched circumcision. He prays to be seen as a human being, not a researcher’s plaything, and asks the saints to “make them remember me/as more than a queer experiment.” The album’s moving closer, “Utilities,” with its 6/8 gospel-ballad beat and church organ, is a plaintive plea to turn a broken life into one worth living: “Make me something somebody can use.”
But it’s the track called “Bigfoot!” – the story of a Winnipeg man who swore he’d seen the creature – that offers both the most ambiguous and accurate portrait of faith. Over a modest finger-picked acoustic guitar, Samson sings: “I’ll go through it all again/I’ll watch their doubtful smiles begin/but the visions that I see believe in me.” Samson understands the cost of belief, whether it’s in a God who can make people whole, a political movement that promises justice, or the “daily prayers of setlists” he mentions on the album’s title track.
The Weakerthans make music that cares, that believes, and so Reunion Tour is an unqualified “burn” – get this record, and share it with a friend who believes in something.
– Joel Hartse

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus