For all of the hundreds of bands assigned by critics the burden of single-handedly saving rock music after Radiohead’s deliberate kiss-off to the mainstream, the Constantines’ continued obscurity is perhaps the most puzzling. Combining an early-Springsteen lyrical style with a command of both massive arena-rock arrangements and lighter-ready, stripped-down ballads, there’s absolutely no reason that the Constantines shouldn’t be the new Guns N’ Roses. That they’re nerdy-looking doesn’t explain their lack of success, since Chris Martin’s and Rivers Cuomo’s little bands haven’t done so terribly, nor does the fact that they’re Canadian. Theirs isn’t a brand of art-rock so highbrow that it becomes inscrutable, and they lack the off-putting pretense of nearly every other plural nouns act that’s been hyped beyond all reason. The Constantines might not actually be the best or the most interesting band in the world, but Tournament Of Hearts sounds like the work of the biggest band in the world.
If anything, the album takes the swagger of the band’s previous efforts, their barely-heard self-titled debut and 2003’s Shine A Light, and channels it into a set of intense, brass-balled set of songs that’s even more readily accessible. “Working Full Time” is the kind of Springsteen-style “everyman” song that The Strokes could never even pass off ironically, and “You Are A Conductor” rivals vintage U2 in its sheer enormity of sound. Unfortunately, Tournament Of Hearts needs just a few more songs with the punch of “Lizavetta” or opener “Draw Us Lines” to balance the slow-burns of more straightforward rock numbers like “Soon Enough” and “Good Nurse.” While the album is doggedly consistent in its quality, it might strike some listeners who are more attuned to Coldplay’s X&Y or Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans as monotonous, which would do Tournament Of Hearts a rather significant disservice. That it steals both of those albums’ thunder without really trying reaffirms that rock music that’s “big” both in its scope and its sound is alive and well. There have been better albums released in 2005 than Tournament Of Hearts, but it’s probably the album most ideally suited to be a left-field commercial success.