Hip’s brave new World

Hip’s brave new World
Kingston quintet revitalized with help from producer Rock
By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter

When veteran Canadian rockers the Tragically Hip named their 11th studio record World Container, they could have been referring to their own globe-spanning adventures over the past year. They’ve criss-crossed the continent a few times and following this week’s Atlantic Canadian leg of the tour, cross the Atlantic Ocean for the second time in 14 months.

But as with most things found in the lyrics of Hip vocalist Gord Downey, there are multiple meanings to be parsed, and the CD title track is no exception, putting personal relationships into a larger global context, with our individual collections of experiences and actions jostling against each other in this giant cargo hold called Mother Earth.

“That’s pretty much how I see it,” says guitarist Paul Langlois, who joins his bandmates and the Sadies at the Halifax Metro Centre on Thursday, and the Cape Breton University Student Union in Sydney on Friday. “I love the image of it, that everyone has their own way of seeing the world, and reacting to it and what’s in it. I also love that it’s up for a lot of interpretation, and that’s usually a difficult process, coming up with the title for a record.

“It’s nice to have a title like that which could mean a number of things to a number of different people. And World Container is probably my favourite song on the record to listen to; it goes a lot of different places lyrically and I love the drama of it. It’s a great title, because it’s an apt title of where we’re at, and it also describes our path and a kind of consciousness.”

Where the band is at is an interesting situation. Produced by noted rockmeister Bob Rock (Metallica, Motley Crue), World Container boils the Hip down to its essence, with straightforward rockers and openly personal word-work by Downie. It’s the sound of a band taking its engine apart, cleaning the parts and putting it back together following the intense career-analyzing process of assembling its 2005 Hipeponymous box set, determined to rediscover the essentials.

“I think that has a lot to do with why we were feeling so energized going into the project,” says Langlois. “Working with Bob Rock was going from an idea to a reality, and we’d had Yer Favourites coming out, with the Walk of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and it was all a lot for everyone to absorb. . . . I think it put a bit of wind in our sails as far as saying, ‘We’re not done yet!’

Rock is known for his back-to-basics approach — he did similar duties for Our Lady Peace on the Healthy in Paranoid Times — although Langlois says Rock didn’t have to play referee between the members of the Kingston quintet as he famously did with OLP and Metallica.

Instead of wearing a ref’s black and white striped shirt, Langlois says Rock was more like a cheerleader for the album, but one who knows his way around a song and what makes them work for a mass audience.

“Bob certainly didn’t hesitate to attempt to get us to highlight the hook,” Langlois chuckles. “That kinda goes against our nature a little bit; we’ve tried to keep them really subtle, and if something sounds really great, we try not to overplay it.”

Rock’s desire to focus on songs that grab the listener rather than sneak up on them pays off in the brute force of the CD opener Yer Not the Ocean and Downie’s analogy between playing goalie and fronting a band, The Lonely End of the Rink, which has become the favourite show starter on the current tour.

The flip side of that sentiment can be found in Family Band, a propulsive ode to the days when the band travelled in a van, loaded its own gear, and played long-gone Halifax venues like Rosa’s Cantina on Argyle Street and Dartmouth’s Crazy Horse. The Hip’s set list changes every night, but there’s a nice symmetry on those evenings when The Lonely End of the Rink and Family Band bookend a show.

In fact, the band plays a healthy selection of new tunes in its current shows, which pleases its hardcore fans and those who’ve seen it perform countless times, but doesn’t always sit so well with the casual listener who can only name a handful of song titles off the top of their head.

“Well, people are different,” sighs Langlois. “We were at a cottage recently with our family and our neighbours, sitting around having a few beers, and one guy I had just met that week — a nice guy — had definitely had a few, and he asked, ‘Why is it you don’t write songs like you used to?’ “

With a little prodding by the ardent fan, Langlois discovered the incredulous listener was comparing recent material to songs that are nearly two decades old, off Up to Here and Road Apples, and he hadn’t picked up a Hip album since 1992’s Fully Completely.

“So he just had to check back in,” says Langlois. “Like a lot of fans, when you’re 22 and in university or whatever, the music you love then becomes the music you’ll always love, or you get older and move on. I don’t think we sound the same, but if we did sound the same, we wouldn’t be together anymore.”

Tickets for the Tragically Hip at the Halifax Metro Centre are $69.50 for Gold Circle seats, $49.50 for regular admission. Tickets are available at the Ticket Atlantic box office (451-1221), online at www.ticketatlantic.com and participating Atlantic Superstores.

Tickets for the Sydney show are $49.50 at Centre 200 box office, Savoy Theatre and Caper Convenience at CBU, $25 for students (CBU only). They are also online at www.reservatech.ca

( scooke@herald.ca)