Brooks Reynolds/Courtsey of Anti Records
The Weakerthans – “Sun in an Empty Room”
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John K. Samson — lead singer and songwriter for the Weakerthans — should have been a poet, or maybe a novelist even. He should have picked a medium where he could really expect his audience to sit and listen to the words, to pour over them, to dissect them and drink them in fully, to go and do the necessary research to tangle out the clever little allusions, to fully understand the powerful metaphors. He shouldn’t have picked an art form where lyrics often take a back seat to licks, to riffs, and to the steady beat of the drums. But all I can say is thank God he did what he shouldn’t have.
Samson’s song-writing is clearly what makes the Weakerthans such an amazing band. Lyrically he has an astounding ability to put himself into a character’s head and then perfectly capture them emotionally. Take for example track two off of their latest album Reunion Tour, “Hymn of the Medical Oddity” where Samson’s dying character begs not to be forgotten, singing “if they remember me at all/make them remember me/ as more than a queer experiment/ more than a diagram in their quarterly/ make them remember me.” Or track five off the same album, when he takes on the persona of a runaway cat, desperate to return home but unable to remember how. Here he laments the fact that he has forgotten what his owner called him by singing “but I can’t remember the sound that you found for me.”
I could pull similar quotes from every other song off the album and off the album before it Reconstruction Site, and I still wouldn’t do the band justice, since much of the power in these songs comes in their whole effect, where Samson laces in bits of the mundane in such away that the emotions become that much more powerful and real. Nor would I have time to explain the depth and breadth of the references that Samson draws on to craft these songs, pulling from sources diverse as hockey, curling, the story of David Riemer, the Art of Edward Hooper, the dot-com crash, the Bigfoot legend, and more. And even if I could do all this I wouldn’t be able to convey how Samson puts these to music with an incredible subtly and restraint that helps them shine all the more.
So I’ll do the only thing I can do, which is tell you to listen to the track we’ve got here, “Sun in an Empty Room,” based off the painting of the same name by Edward Hooper, and hope that you’re impressed enough to go buy the rest of their music for yourself.