Kensington Heights

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Kensington Heights is the Constantines' first album for the respected Canadian imprint Arts & Crafts, and, unfortunately, it's also the first of their albums that doesn't improve upon what they've done before. At their best, the Constantines are untouchable at bringing new life and fire to hard-charging, straightforward rock, and albums like Shine a Light and Tournament of Hearts were filled with songs that were as agile as they were searching and anthemic. On Kensington Heights, all the elements that usually make the band great seem to be in place -- the guitars charge, the drums and keyboards are insistent, and Bryan Webb's vocals are as gravelly and earnest as ever. However, with a sound as traditional as the Constantines' is, there's a fine line between classic and predictable, and this time the band ends up on the wrong side of it. Kensington Heights starts off promisingly with "Hard Feelings," which boasts a great keyboard riff and all of the urgency the band usually brings. From there, though, the band moves into slower, ballad-heavy territory that tries to re-create the magic of Tournament of Hearts' "Soon Enough," but while "Do What You Can Do," "I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song," and "Our Age" seem heartfelt, they ultimately don't make much of an impact; that there are so many midtempo to slow songs makes the album feel longer than it actually is. This draggy feeling plagues some of the faster songs, too; "Million Star Hotel" and "Shower of Stones" are driving and hooky, yet still feel a minute or two longer than they should be. Kensington Heights does have some flashes of the band's usual power and momentum, particularly on the aptly named "Trans Canada," which chugs along briskly on spooky keyboards (not coincidentally, it's the album's shortest song) and "Credit River," which pushes the band's rock forward with snarling garage rock organs and phased synths. Even if Kensington Heights is the Constantines' least satisfying album, the band's sound is never less than mighty; it's just disappointing how easy it is to let so many songs here fade into the background.

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