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By Jeff Miers
The Buffalo News
4 out of 4 stars
Dear, sweet music. You loved her once, a long time ago.
You whispered sweet nothings in her ear, courted her with chivalry, promised Paris but delivered a suburb in Podunk, grew lazy and inattentive, cultivated a beer belly, left her at home while you went off chasing the newest, glitzy young thing with your equally loyalty-challenged buddies. You will not have the right to claim hurtful surprise when she finally ups and leaves you. You had it coming.
If itâ€™s the truth that we have marked this moment in the â€œeveryone can do it, anywhere, at any timeâ€ phase of musicâ€™s creation and dissemination with a failure to place any real cultural value on the music itself, then it would logically follow that the artists will fall into line and dutifully churn out music that doesnâ€™t matter.
Most have done exactly this, and who can blame them? Times are tough, and hedging oneâ€™s bets isnâ€™t exactly a radical approach these days.
The Tragically Hip, however, have opted for the oftnamechecked, but rarely chosen â€œpath less traveled.â€ The Canadian bandâ€™s 12th studio album, â€œWe Are the Same,â€ is its most ambitious, detail-oriented and cleanly rendered effort to date. In an era when plowing the same furrow ad infinitum has been elevated to a virtue, the Hip has instead built with its own hands a gorgeous, fragile crystal city and placed it at the top of a wind-swept hill. There it sits, shimmering, naked to the elements, but unafraid.
The band has reinvented itself. We had no right to expect as much.
All of this is achieved without you really noticing it, until about the third time through the record, when you realize that it now owns your soul, like it or not. (And I suspect a good many Hip fans wonâ€™t; this is music to dream to, not drink beer to, no offense to anyone intended. There are really beautiful string arrangements going on, sparse orchestration in service of a storytellerâ€™s volition. How will it play in arenas? Powerfully, I expect, but only if the listener accepts change and growth as both good and necessary.)
Atop all of this, Downie delivers his finest lyrics and strongest vocal melodies yet. The seeds of these were planted back in â€œAhead By A Century,â€ sprouted over the years into â€œBobcaygeon,â€ â€œItâ€™s A Good Life If You Donâ€™t Weaken,â€ â€œWorld Containerâ€™sâ€ title song, and now, come fully into bloom with â€œNow the Struggle Has A Name,â€ quite possibly the strongest, most viscerally imaginative and imagistic song in the Hip canon.
With a band at the peak of its collective power roiling beneath him, Downieâ€™s lyrics are simultaneously felt and heard. There is now no separation between form and content.
â€œWe Are the Sameâ€ is like a love letter, one that begins Dear, sweet musicâ€¦