On 12th album, Tragically Hip flirt with new sounds while sounding like themselves
The Tragically Hip have always been blissfully out of step with the trends of the music industry.
So when Bob Rock signed on to guide the Tragically Hip’s 2006 album, “World Container,” fans fretted that the pop-minded producer would smooth away the subtle, literate side of the band in favour of arena-friendly fare.
That worrying was needless, as it turned out – the band’s Hip-ness endured for another compelling collection of tunes.
Rock returns for the Hip’s latest, “We Are the Same,” a sombre, grounded set that showcases a band that seems even less interested in scoring a radio hit.
The album’s title would seem to refer to the everyman focus of frontman Gord Downie’s lyrics. “The Depression Suite” is a three-part examination of characters plugging away in menial jobs, while “Coffee Girl” tells the story of a “beautiful and disaffected” employee at a java shop.
“Hangover hanging on by the fangs, walk to work on wild feet,” Downie sings. “Get to the back door, look around then turn the key.”
But if the record’s title is a reference to the all-for-one nature of Downie’s lyrics, it also seems a bit ironic given the record’s disjointed flow.
The first half of the album is composed of stately, country-inflected tunes while the tempo nudges up on the flip side with some distorted rockers that will seem right at home blaring out in hockey arenas.
“Now the Struggle Has a Name” and “The Depression Suite,” which clock in together at well over 15 minutes, comprise the album’s turning point but also its saggy, momentum-killing midsection.
The album suffers when it finds the Hip straying too far from their comfort zone. Strings are uncharacteristically prominent here, with the production occasionally swelling to levels of Coldplay-like grandeur, while the blazing guitar solos in “Queen of the Furrow’s” and “Speed River” feel likewise overblown.
Such broad strokes have never really suited the Tragically Hip, and it’s the album’s smaller moments that truly resonate.
“The Last Recluse” is a highlight, with Downie delicately crooning above the accompanying acoustic guitar and organ, “Coffee Girl” is sprightly yet nostalgic, while “Love is a First” promises to be a live favourite with its fist-pumping chorus and stream-of-consciousness spoken-word section.
On “Frozen in My Tracks,” Downie imagines “the day you take me for granted.” Yet his band seems to have discovered a winning formula. Even on their 12th album, the Hip continue to flirt with new sounds while sounding precisely like themselves.
“We Are the Same”
Tragically Hip (Universal)
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