The Tragically Hip – [Album]

Monday, 06 April 2009

There's no arguing that The Tragically Hip have remained Canada's most enduring musical export since Up To Here launched the group to the top of the rock pile in 1989, but it would be hard to contend that the band hasn't made some questionable artistic turns in the years since. After the lights went out and the cord was cut on the Phantom Power album cycle in 1999, The Hip knocked their fan base squarely on its ass with the pop-infused Music At Work and put all bets off in the process. Each following record found the band trying to expand its reach and sound with consistently mixed results (In Violent Light was more textural in tone, for example, while World Container was remarkably slick) and while those albums always found an audience, the excitement shifted to fans waiting on the edge of their seats to see if the band could live up to their reputation with each new album – thus validating it and letting the fans rest secure in the fact that they weren't wrong and The Hip was still the best band they'd ever heard. Operating under that theory, with We Are The Same will come the single best and greatest validation the band will have earned in a decade; it is the dictionary definition of a comeback for a band that has never really suffered a letdown.

It isn't as if The Hip are trying to recapture old glories or make a play for the nostalgia-craving casino crowd with We Are The Same though. That would be lame and basically ensure a cessation of growth in their fan base. Rather, the album plays like the aural act of the band flipping the breakers and re-firing the circuits; it is the sound of them coming back into their own. Operating under that assumption, it makes sense that the album would start slowly with a Neil Young-ian anthem  like “Morning Moon” that, with it's classically etched acoustic build and gang harmonic vocals, implies The Tragically Hip have finally found a way to age gracefully. Gord Downie moves back to a lyrical delivery that favors poetry over pop and the band shoots for beauty over rock and nails the mark dead in both cases. With that initial assertion made, the band proves they could play the elder statesmen role through songs like “The Last Recluse” and “Now The Struggle Has A Name” but, after they make that point, their ambition continues to build through “The Exact Feeling” and landmark sighting of “Queen Of The Furrows.” With each successive track, The Hip's engine gets warmer and cooks the dust off of cylinders that have long been left unused and they start to glow a little with the effort. For older fans, the old excitement begins to build because they recognize that their heroes are heading back onto ground where the signs and monuments look familiar. It's almost too good to be true.

By the time the band reaches “Frozen In My Tracks,” The Tragically Hip have arrived – again. That is to say, they've been at this juncture before, but this is the first time in ages. “Frozen In My Tracks” reclaims the lean, poetic and theatrical urgency of The Hip in their prime (think Fully Completely) and illustrates that, like a beloved old work coat locked and forgotten for years in the trunk of a car, the sound still fits and still cuts a striking image. “Love Is A First” clinches the deal and will send fans into a dizzy state of euphoria as Downie starts chattering like the manic street preacher fans know and love and the band stampedes through behind him with trademark, incendiary licks into “Country Day” which gets over on old school vibes in spite of being bloated by the string section supplied by Bob Rock. In the last quarter of the album's run-time, The Hip make it work in the best possible way and there isn't a single fan that won't recognize it and appreciate it.

Will they stay though? That question has plagued fans of The Tragically Hip for a decade but, for the first time in years, the answer actually feels like it might be affirmative because the thematic movement in these dozen tracks implies that to be the plan. Realistically, all fans can do is hope, but the promise is here and a return to form seems imminent.


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We Are The Same
is out now on Universal. Buy it on Amazon .

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