At the surface level, Reunion Tour sounds pretty much on par with everything frontman John K. Samson and his band of not-so-merry men have released. Musically, The Weakerthans still craft indie country rock. The lyrics are still hyper-literate, hyper-poetic, hyper-descriptive. Samson is still a master at creating whole worlds for his listeners in just a few minutes, and they always resonate with melancholy here.
But oh, how the subtle differences stand out. Where the music of something like Left & Leaving went from furious highs (“Aside,” “Exiles Among You”) to depressive lows (“Left & Leaving,” “Everything Must Go!”), Reunion Tour tends towards the middle. While tracks like “Relative Surplus Value” and “Tournament of Hearts” have a good bit of pep to them, they curb the shreddability of lead guitarist Stephen Carroll. Carroll’s solos are less fervent here, but they still serve the music perfectly.
What remains the same, however, is Samson’s fondness for somber details. Whether writing through a character or as himself, he finds the slightest intricacies of a scene to express the most dramatic of emotions. Lines like, “I wonder if the landlord has fixed the crack that I stared at instead of staring back at you,” bring the listener into Samson’s viewpoint easily. When he sings through characters like a patient (“Hymn of the Medical Oddity”), a business man (“Relative Surplus Value”) or Virtute the cat (“Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure,” the thrilling sequel to “Plea from a Cat Named Virtute”), they spring forth with deep back stories and hummable lines.
Verbose and melancholy, The Weakerthans have served up a satisfyingly mellow effort with Reunion Tour, even for them. Building on a new direction first hinted at on Reconstruction Site, the band has embraced its more atmospheric qualities to produce an album that is subdued, but gloriously so. It may not supplant Left & Leaving in some listeners’ hearts, but Reunion Tour should at least sit nearby. Perhaps it will reside in the superior vena cava, pumping its autumnal pseudo-sadness through fans’ bodies around 2 a.m.