Along with single-payer health care and 12-month maternity
leave, the Tragically Hip are at the top of the list of things that the United
States should learn from Canada. Monstrously successful north of the border,
the Hip’s literate rock anthems have inexplicably failed to find much success
here. Sure, they’ve got more songs about
hockey than most rock bands, and Gordon Downie’s lyrics tend toward the cryptic,
but for all of their quirks, the Tragically Hip are nothing if not big, bold,
arena rockers at heart. If Nickelback can top the charts here, surely these
guys deserve more love than a few sold-out theaters in a half-dozen major
cities, which is the extent of the band’s U.S. touring these days.
We Are the Same,
the band’s 12th studio album, isn’t likely to change that; save for
“Love is a First” and “The Exact Feeling,” they’ve mostly
traded in the swaggering, straightahead rock that made their early albums so
instantly appealing for pleasures both more subtle and more ambitious. On one
end of the spectrum are “Coffee Girl,” a pensive paean to the bohemian
behind the counter, and “Morning Moon,” a twangy exploration of the
banalities of a relationship quietly falling apart.
At the other extreme lies “The Depression Suite,”
nine-and-a-half minute epic that travels lyrically from Chicago to New Orleans
to Canada’s Barrens and musically through three distinct musical sections from
pulsing pop to midtempo rock to lighter-waving power ballad, orchestral
strings. Then there’s “Now the
Struggle Has A Name,” on which the strings appear again, propelling a
bridge that sounds like early ELO.
So what keeps it all from turning in to bombastic cliché? It
all comes down to Downie’s voice, a nasally snarl that’s by turns vicious and
tender, and his lyrics, which sketch out enough descriptive and narrative
details to create a vivid scene and the skeleton of a story, leaving the
listener to fill in the rest. Well, that and the fact that the Tragically Hip
are the best rock band you’ve never heard of.
Last Recluse,” “Now the Struggle Has a Name” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN