Thursday, October 19, 2017

Video Of The Week: The Tragically Hip

Well, it had to happen, and so it has: The Tragically Hip's lead singer and central figure, Gord Downie, has passed away from his incurable brain cancer.

My own personal history with the Hip began with their 1989 "true" debut Up To Here's second single, New Orleans Is Sinking, the first (Blow At High Dough) not making a dent in what I was listening to at the time at 10-11 years old (Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction and GNR Lies, Kiss' Crazy Nights, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton, Def Leppard's Hysteria, Michael Jackson's Thriller and Bad, Prince's Batman soundtrack, Queen's The Miracle, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Mother's Milk, and Bon Jovi's New Jersey). But New Orleans had something, a feel, a groove that I could deal with. I say "true" debut, by the way, because I'd seen their self-titled Tragically Hip 1987 EP release in stores at that point, but didn't buy it until 1992 or 1993; Up To Here was their first full-length endeavour. I didn't really think much of the rest of that record, so I waited for the second one, 1991's Road Apples, to be very discounted (under $10) to give it a go, and I loved Little Bones, Twist My Arm, and Cordelia right away. I liked the rest of it, too, but not as much as the one-two-three punch at the beginning of the record, which I still go to in order from time to time.

1992's Fully Completely was a whole new ballgame. All killer, no filler. This was what cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with on the Canadian mainstream rock stage, with reason. Out of the 12 songs on the album, only four do not qualify as "hits". They're great nonetheless, but the Big Eight just pack so much: Courage (for Hugh MacLennan), Looking for a Place to Happen, At the Hundredth Meridian, Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Fully Completely, Fifty Mission Cap and Wheat Kings all became staples of their live shows until the very end, and remain in full rotation on Canadian rock radio to this day.

1994's Day For Night was even better, with such classics as Grace, Too, Greasy Jungle, So Hard Done By, the tear-inducing Nautical Disaster, Inevitability of Death, Scared and An Inch an Hour. With sleeker production, this was a band at the height of songwriting genius made to sound like early R.E.M. - and it worked. It felt real, honest, and raw.

1996's Trouble At The Henhouse might be their finest work, with standouts Gift Shop, Springtime In Vienna, and the masterpiece Ahead by a Century. It has a more acoustic feel to it, it seems warmer and softer then their preceding works.

They released Live Between Us, a live album recorded in Detroit, in 1997, containing most hits, then went in the studio to make 1998's Phantom Power, with standout tracks Poets, Bobcaygeon, Something On, and Fireworks. It was a fine record, but nothing original; it was The Hip sounding like The Hip - not as generic as future releases, but there was a comfort level setting, there wasn't much surprise.

The same can be said of 2000's Music @ Work. If anything, even the four singles (My Music At Work, Lake Fever, The Completists and Freak Turbulence) sound almost sarcastically like keeping with the band's signature sound. And titles like Tiger The Lion do nothing to dispel that notion. This is where I moved on from the Hip a bit, so I bought 2002's In Violet Light because I'd bought all the others, but I played it twice in its entirety and never really went back to it. They made videos for It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken and The Darkest One, and that was my lone contact with this album.

2004's In Between Evolution, however, struck a major chord in me. Perhaps it's the fact that unlike others, it's politically-charged, in the midst of George W. Bush's Iraq War, or maybe they just started trying again, but songs like Heaven Is a Better Place Today, Summer's Killing Us, Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park, Vaccination Scar, It Can't Be Nashville Every Night, As Makeshift as We Are, One Night in Copenhagen and Goodnight Josephine really resonated. The album was produced by engineer extraordinaire Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Queens Of The Stone Age, R.E.M., winner of two Grammys for his work with the Foo Fighters), which probably helped.

2006 brought World Container, which I remember liking, but The Kids Don't Get It is the only song from that album that's made its way into my Permanent Playlist. It's pretty much the same for 2009's We Are The Same: Coffee Girl, Now the Struggle Has a Name, The Depression Suite, and Love Is a First are all fine tunes, but Queen of the Furrows is the only song off that record that I still listen to on a regular basis.

Then there was the two-album conclusion, Now For Plan A and Man Machine Poem, the latter of which is named after a song from the former. Confused? Good. These are good records, introspective, deep in thought, with dark yet groovy pieces of music. Not what I would recommend for someone who has never heard the band (the 1992-96 output would be a better starting point, in my opinion), but for a casual fan or radio listener who was curious to find out how their 1990s sound evovled with age and technical skill, I'd recommend these two ahead of the previous two.

Pretty much as soon as the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, the band embarked on what doubled as the Man Machine Poem tour and its farewell tour, playing 15 shows in 10 cities - it was originally 10, but controversy surrounding ticket scalpers getting the bulk of the tickets (promoter Live Nation estimates upwards of two-thirds of tickets were purchased by bots, not people) forced the band to add a show apiece in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, and two in Toronto; the tour did not go farther East than Ottawa, meaning Québec (specifically the rather large Montréal market) and the Maritimes drew blanks. The final concert was held at Kingston's Rogers K-Rock Center, in the heart of the group's hometown.

I bring this post home with the song that first caught my ear, New Orleans Is Sinking:

I don't know who directed it, but if I come by it, I will update this post.

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