"Avoid Trends and Cliches" - A Bad History of The Tragically Hip

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  1. #1

    Post "Avoid Trends and Cliches" - A Bad History of The Tragically Hip

    This is the first post of what I hope will become a magnum opus of musical writing. Or just a little ditty about a band I like. In any case, inspired by the titans of the music forum, welcome to...
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    My plan is to explore the discography of the Tragically Hip. If I think I can handle it, I may tackle some of the side projects, solos, unreleased material, or compilations, but I doubt it. The hope is that through methodical listening and research, I'll be able to share one of my favourite bands with you all and learn to love them even more myself, as well as give some of their newer music a fairer listen.

    First, let's meet the band.

    The Tragically Hip is a rock band from Kingston, Ontario. Kingston is home to KP, which was one of the world's oldest operating prisons (1835 - 2013). Kingston was also the first capital of Canada for about 3 years.

    The Hip had a steady lineup since 1986 consisting of the following.
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    From left to right.
    1. Johnny Fay - Drums (1984-2017)
    2. Gord Downie - Vox, Lyrics (1984-2017)
    3. Rob Baker - Guitar (1984-2017)
    4. Gord Sinclair - Bass, Backing Vox (1984-2017)
    5. Paul Langlois - Guitar, Backing Vox (1986-2017)

    Other members (Not pictured):
    Davis Manning - Apparently he played sax between 1984-1986. That's the first of many discoveries for me, I'm sure.

    The Hip's musical stylings began very much blues and rock n' roll. The first couple albums were essentially designed to capture their live sound. By their third they branched out into alt-rock and pop with many forays into folk/country over the years.

    The albums I plan on getting into are 1 EP, 13 LPs, and 1 live album:

    The Tragically Hip (1987)
    Up to Here (1989)
    Road Apples (1991)
    Fully Completely (1992)
    Day for Night (1994)
    Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)
    Live Between Us (1997)
    Phantom Power (1998)
    Music @ Work (2000)
    In Violet Light (2002)
    In Between Evolution (2004)
    World Container (2006)
    We Are the Same (2009)
    Now for Plan A (2012)
    Man Machine Poem (2016)

    These guys are ingrained in the Canadian psyche. I remember in high school while we were being courted by universities, one visiting recruiter remarked that his walk from residence to class took "four tragically hip songs."

    I'm going to give some impressions of the albums, mention which are my favorites, which I hate, and highlight at least one song per album. I won't give a numerical rating, because I'll agonize over them until I'm dead.

    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the first installment.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  2. #2
    I don't have a lot of Tragically Hip but I did hear New Orleans Is Sinking which is quite awesome. Looking forward to your reviews.
    Hidden Content Hidden Content Hidden Content Hidden Content

    And check out Gertie's blog on her favorite top twenty-five albums between 1955-2017 Hidden Content

  3. #3
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
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    Excellent! Fresh victims for our ever-growing army of the undead!
    Er, I mean, welcome to Journaltown! You are among the first to register your interest in our new, modern, desirable houses and as such we welcome you to our community, and hope you will be a productive and happy member.
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    Or, to put it another way, thanks for taking the plunge and not leaving Musty and I as the only ones putting in the hours here. Your sacrifice will not go unrewarded.* Hopefully now others will follow your example, and the floodgates will open. Not literally, because, you know, that would drown Journaltown and all its inhabitants...

    * Legally, Mister Trollheart is not bound by this statement and he would like to make it clear that in fact your sacrifice will go unrewarded.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #4
    Information comes from the album liner notes, Wikipedia, Google, and special mention goes to hipmuseum dot com. All errata are entirely mine alone. Also, this format’s pale imitation was consciously and unconsciously stolen from mrmustard615 and Trollheart.

    We begin our journey in 1987 with a self-titled EP.

    From the liner notes: “After thousands of hours on the road and hundreds of nights in clubs in small town Canada, we would like to thank our parents for their patience, and our friends and fans for their support.”

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    Roses never springs to life; They requires determination, care, grit, pruning, and a host of other ingredients allowing them to reach a glorious bloom. This here is the seed, planted in the Ontario soil. The Tragically Hip, with the lineup that would see them through the next 30 years, sets down an EP for 27ish minutes capturing the raw, live sound they toured with. The recording has a distant sound I attribute to low budget recordings of that time.

    The Hip are most known for their poetic, evocative, and mysterious lyrics penned mainly by Gord Downie. On this initial run of songs, we don’t see but a hint of what’s to come. I’ve never listened to every album sequentially and knowing what’s in store makes those hints more delicious than anybody could have known in 1987.

    Songs here are boot-stompin’ bluesy rock, and I always find myself tapping and singing along. Perfect bar tunes, filled with gang-vocals, twangin’ geetar, catchy choruses, and women who done me wrong.
    This album never charted, but was popular in Canada according to Wikipedia, though US airtime was limited to college stations.

    Lyrically and musically, this whole thing feels very blue-collar. “Last American Exit” has a quasi-patriotic couplet in the chorus:

    “I’m on the last American exit to the Northland
    I’m on the last American exit to my homeland”

    But the group’s literary and historical references, while scant on this LP, do come through in the same track:

    “You know you’ll probably cry like Caesar’s son when you’re found.”

    I think my favourite song on the album is “Killing Time.” It’s the rawest track, Gord’s voice is fantastic, the guitars have this real somber tone. The whole thing has this foreboding growth and energy.

    Least favourite is “All-Canadian Surf Club.” I find this a tepid closer, unfortunately. This song is listed on the CD itself, but isn’t credited nor do the lyrics appear, in the booklet, which I didn’t notice until writing this.

    Track List:

    Small Town Bringdown
    Last American Exit
    Killing Time
    Cemetery Sideroad
    I’m A Werewolf, Baby
    Highway Girl
    All-Canadian Surf Club

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    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the second installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 8th, 2019 at 12:22 AM.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  5. #5
    Information comes from the album liner notes, Wikipedia, Google, and special mention goes to hipmuseum dot com. All errata are entirely mine alone. Also, this format’s pale imitation was consciously and unconsciously stolen from mrmustard615 and Trollheart.

    It’s 1989 (the year the storks dropped yours truly down the chimney) and it’s time to blow up.

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    Right off the hop, this album sounds cleaner than the previous. It sounds more ambitious, more substantial, more creative, more this, more that, more everything! As much as I enjoy the EP, from start to finish each song was strikingly similar to every other. Not so with this outing. You get some acoustic strings (“Boots or Hearts,” “38 Years Old”), a taste of honky-tonk, you get more playfulness with volume, you get more lyrical narrative (“38 Years Old”), you get songs with greater lyrical complexity and length, and you get some of the biggest Tragically Hip hits of all time that are still played literally every single day on radio stations from Clayoquot Sound to Cape Spear.

    You get your “New Orleans is Sinking,” your “38 Years Old,” your “Boots or Hearts,” your “Blow at High Dough.” Obviously, you’re nodding your head “Oh yeah, the big ones!” And that’s just in the first half! Okay, it’s front-loaded with all the hits, but the second half doesn’t disappoint. The second half is filled with downers, though, and includes the two weakest tracks, "Trickle Down" and "Another Midnight."

    This album was huge. They toured in Canada, the US, and made their European debut on this sucker. In the first year it sold 100,000 copies and by 1990 it went gold. By 1999 it would be certified diamond. All in Canada! It was their first album to get an American release, but while it was cruising to the top of the charts here in the Great White North, they never truly broke in the US. By 1997, “only” 80 000 copies sold. The lack of success in the US is of interest to many people, but I’m not one of them. I mention it because it is curious. Future albums would have the same result. Oh well, this is the last I’ll speak of it.

    There's so much strength on this album that I'm inclined to give a blurb on every single track. I may start doing that with the next album, because it just keeps getting better from here.

    While I love Gord’s cryptic lyrics, I’m a simple man and I’ve always preferred concrete narrative. Gord’s gives me what I’m cravin’, and we get a poignant story on “38 Years Old.” The song tells the tale of a prison escape from Millhaven Maximum Security Penitentiary in Ontario. It’s a revenge story, wherein the man, 38 year-old Mike, killed the sunovabitch who raped his sister and went away for a long long time. It’s told simply and beautifully, and Gord’s delivery is utterly essential to every word off this album.

    “He’s 38 years old
    Never kissed a girl.”

    We get another downer in the closer “Opiated,” and again Gord’s delivery dares me to even try describing the profound, soul-rending sensation I get when listening to this guy. If I could bottle that sensation, I’d could hire Elon Musk as my personal ball-washer. Unlike the EP, this closer is powerful and leaves me wanting to start the whole thing over again.

    “He bought two-fifths of lead-free gasoline
    Said, the bottle is dusty, but my engine is clean
    He bought a nice blue suit with the money he could find
    If his bride didn't like it, St Peter wouldn't mind”

    “You think the snake just dreams up the poison in his head”

    Visuals unrelated.

    There’s only one song I don’t much care for. “Trickle Down” is tucked near the end of the album. It feels directionless, I simply don’t care for the tempo. Compared to the soulful, creative, beautiful songs we’ve heard up until this track, it’s a let down. I wouldn’t call it bad though. More like its not my cuppa. The other songs in this vein all do it better and more cleverly.

    1. Blow at High Dough
    2. I'll Believe in You (Or I'll Be Leaving You Tonight)
    3. New Orleans Is Sinking
    4. 38 Years Old
    5. She Didn't Know
    6. Boots or Hearts
    7. Everytime You Go
    8. When the Weight Comes Down
    9. Trickle Down
    10. Another Midnight
    11. Opiated

    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the third installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 8th, 2019 at 12:22 AM.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  6. #6
    Information comes from the album liner notes, Wikipedia, Google, and special mention goes to hipmuseum dot com. All errata are entirely mine alone. Also, this format’s pale imitation was consciously and unconsciously stolen from mrmustard615 and Trollheart.

    The year is 1991 and the hits keep coming.

    Tidbit: The working title during recording was Saskadelphia. Because they were signed to MCA USA, they were told to change it for being too Canadian. Instead, they went with Road Apples which, unbeknownst to MCA, is slang for horseshit.

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    A second diamond studio album. No big deal. This baby was recorded in the French Quarter way down in sweaty New Orleans. The band’s website says “New Orleans is a lively town and we're sure the whole vibe down there is on this record.” I can definitely see it, especially through the first half of the album. The record starts with southern-twang guitar, followed by the lines “it gets so sticky down here.”

    We’re still following some of the trends of the EP and first studio album, catching the energy of a live performance. Things are straight-up and in-your-face, but again we have added layers and additional instrumentation, including accordion, piano, and tambourine per the liner notes. Despite a rambunctious entrance, I find this album more laid-back than the two previous, which seems in keeping the New Orleans. Nearly every note feels like it’s taking its sweet time.

    The song-writing gets tighter here as well. Rob Baker in particular is showcasing the nascent flexibility here on guitar, melding all these sounds into some great tunes and we get some solos, like the scorcher on “Born in the Water”. The bass is used really well here too, and pops into the foreground on a number of occasions with a really fat, satisfying tone. It was around this time that Gord Downie took over the lyrics entirely. The EP had songs written by other members, but according to Baker:
    “we’ll just start jamming, and Gord’ll flip through his book until he finds something that feels appropriate, rhythmically. And if we can get a good groove happening, then he just starts singing.” (source)

    Gord gets obscure and, perhaps, obtuse at times. It’s all oblique reference and esoteries. The man is an actual poet, with poems in anthologies and everything, so he's really showing his wordy craft. The opener, “Little Bones”, for example:

    “The long days of Shockley are gone
    So is football Kennedy style
    Famous last words taken all wrong
    Wind up on the very same pile
    $2.50 for a decade
    And a buck and a half for a year
    Happy hour, happy hour
    Happy hour is here”

    What’s he going on about? A subtler mind than mine probably knows. He loves to pull from a wide range of sources then mash them together and he’ll revisit themes, ideas, or sources repeatedly. “Cordelia,” for example, references Shakespeare quite plainly, and various references appear on the last album, and will remain a staple going forward. Also:

    From "Highway Girl" on the EP:
    “Well she looked out her window when the police came
    To see a big tin man dancing in the rain”

    From "Cordelia" on Road Apples:
    “Tin can man, dragging from a car
    Just to see how alive you really are”

    Without a doubt, my favourite track is “The Luxury.” Its languid pace is set by the opening bass line, Gord’s vocals once again steal the show, moving from soft on the verses to full goat in the chorus. His voice is often a love-or-hate affair. It has these gorgeous piles of words that can move me even when I have no idea what they’re trying to convey.

    “Prison-yard stares and fleur-de-lis tattoos
    Cannibals are saving all their bones for soup
    Eating with my fingers and sucking hulls of ships
    My parasite don't deserve no better than this”

    Runner up is “Fiddler’s Green.” This is an acoustic cut that sounds like an Irish folk song but was written by Gord as a lament for relative whose son died of a heart condition. According to hipmuseum dot com, the song was never played live until 2006. Tissues recommended.

    “September Seventeen
    For a girl I know it's Mother's Day
    Here son has gone alee
    And that's where he will stay”

    I don’t think there’s a song on here I could call my least favourite.


    1. Little Bones
    2. Twist My Arm
    3. Cordelia
    4. The Luxury
    5. Born in the Water
    6. Long Time Running
    7. Bring it all Back
    8. Three Pistols
    9. Fight
    10. On the Verge
    11. Fiddler’s Green
    12. The Last of the Unplucked Gems

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    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the fourth installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 8th, 2019 at 12:23 AM.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  7. #7
    Information comes from the album liner notes, Wikipedia, Google, and special mention goes to hipmuseum dot com. All errata are entirely mine alone. Also, this format’s pale imitation was consciously and unconsciously stolen from mrmustard615 and Trollheart.

    In '92, the Hip flew over the ocean blue.

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    The boys fly to England with a new fancy producer and state-of-the-art studio to record on a huge record label budget that, from what I’ve gathered from a few sources, is far less common nowadays. This backing allowed them to build an album with all the resources they needed, including even wider array of instruments and a famous artist for the album cover. It’s about time because, if I’m honest, their covers have been pretty lame up to this point. Rob Baker claimed in an interview that the art alone was $30,000.

    I said I wouldn’t mention the US thing, but during my research I found a great podcast that shed more light on that. At the release of Fully Completely, apparently the record company pulled the plug on the marketing after… 2 weeks! Records didn’t fly off the shelves, and they just wrote off the whole endeavor in the US lickety-split.

    This is the quintessential Hip album and it’s easy to see why. The mystery of the Hip, the maneuvers between driving, relaxed, and folksy songs meshes with a vastly expanded range of guitar and vocal sounds, on top of fantastic base lines and solid drumming, and Gord going full tilt on the lush and often dream-like lyricism, making this a joy from A to B.

    Mystery feels like the perfect word here. Every song is brimming with detail, oddities, heart, and passion. Everybody is playing their heart out, and every song (with one possible exception) has an aspect that captivates, unnerves, repulses, confuses, calms, or excites you. According to one interview, the process on this album was far different than just having everybody in a room and banging out the song. With the experienced producer, the songs were constructed “instrument by instrument over five weeks,” and I think the layered, subtle feel to everything bears that process out.

    The cover is a photocopy collage by artist Lieve Prins, and consists of a mix of images, most apparent being the nude females and the disembodied band members mashed into a “bacchanalian revelry”. Even this feeds the mystery and unease, with the Picasso-esque contorted bodies and faces, and unsettling colour palette. The actual piece is life-sized and noticeably assembled in squares.

    This album is a complex piece of art deserving of dissection, and it being as massive as it is, plenty has been written about it. Still, I feel a loving desire to pore through the songs and give my take. While at the time of release they were not on my 3-year-old radar, discovering these songs entranced me for life. They feel like the grout between the bricks as my life was built; an essential, foundational, critical, omnipresent, and necessary element. There are not nearly enough adjectives to capture it.

    This will have to be a two-parter. I’ll be out of town for a few days, so I’ll spend that time listening and scribbling.

    I'll leave you with the closer:

    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the fourth-point-five installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 8th, 2019 at 12:23 AM.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  8. #8
    It was a turkey-less Thanksgiving, but well spent with family. In the commercial breaks of Speed and Die Hard 2, and during the autumn lined drive, I scratched out some thoughts about the songs.

    The albums stomps into being with the iconic "Courage (for Hugh McLennan)." Who is Hugh McLennan you ask? He's a Canadian author who explored life, meaning, and existentialism in books that Gord was reading around this time. In particular, The Watch That Ends the Night (1957).
    The song even quotes the book (not quite verbatim):

    "So there's no simple explanation
    For anything important any of us do.
    And yea the human tragedy
    Consists in the necessity
    Of living with the consequences
    Under pressure, under pressure."

    No rhyme here, but he breaks it up vocally into these great beats that works. For more on these themes, see this exhibit.
    The song is upbeat, which matches the exalting mood of the lyrics. It's a thinkin' man's YOLO.

    Contrasting the positive outlook of the first song, we get a second, darker Canadian track. Here, we explore the encounter of the Europeans and the native Americans during the colonialism.

    "Jacques Cartier, right this way
    I'll put your coat up on the bed
    Hey, man you've got the real bum's eye for clothes
    And come on in, sit right down
    No, you're not the first to show
    We've all been here since God who knows"

    We have this figure who is seizing his day, who is daring, and whose history is inextricable from the sadder side of North American history.

    "I've got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff
    And I want my life to smell like this
    To find a place, ancient race
    The kind you'd like to gamble with"

    The one hundredth meridian is the longitudinal line traditionally used to divide Canada into East and West, "where the Great Plains begin." This divide is akin to the north/south divide of the US, including the stereotypical associated politics. In TV, people from oil-rich Alberta are often depicted identically to Texans. Bolo tie, ten-gallon hat, and cowboys boots included.

    We get some lovely imagery here:

    "Driving down a corduroy road
    Wheat standing shoulder high
    A ferris wheel is rusting
    Off in the distance"

    In 1999 my family drove from Ontario to Banff National Park in Alberta and this scene rings so true, especially in flat, agricultural Saskatchewan. Comedian Lorne Elliot once joked that if your dog ran off, you could see him run for days. Or, that if you wanted a map of Saskatchewan, you just need a piece of graph paper.

    This is a great singable track filled with energy that swings from quiet to loud in grandiose movements. One of my favourite parts is the bridge which he shoots through really fast and its fun to sing while trying not to stumble over the syllables or lose your breath (though it's no Mari-Mac).

    Well, who's up for a little shameful incest? And WWI espionage? This track is like the ultimate Gord Downie topic mash-up. With such disparate subjects, how could anyone tie these things together? I think Downie does. The song is a quieter track than we've seen, but obviously gets stranger.
    Pigeon cameras were used to spy on enemy trenches during the Great War. The song touches on the conditioning required to ensure those pigeons come back with their precious intelligence, but notes that once they're in the air... Well, "by now they could be anywhere."

    Entwined with this historical curiosity is a tale of a brother and sister who are discovering "something they can no longer contain." Things unleashed, but going in the wrong direction? Though I have no sisters, I've heard it's not uncommon for a young boy to spy on his sister in order to find out more about the opposite sex.

    Probably my least favourite on this album. It's an enjoyable romp. I find this song comes and goes without much notice. I will say that title, as sung, is a little annoying.

    We return to a subtle mosaic of topics surrounding a theme. We open on a first-person account of a shark who has apparently swallowed a 16 century Conquistador.

    In October 1970, La Front de la Liberation de Quebec abducted two men. One of those men was Pierre Laport. He was found dead in... You guessed it. The rest of the song seems to follow this man who plans, abducts, and kills someone. After his act, he cannot help thinking about what he's done.

    "Everyday I'm dumping the body."

    This murderer is trapped by his guilt, as the man was trapped in the trunk, and the soldier is trapped in the shark. There's a lot to this song, and more info can be found at the hip museum if you want a rundown on major themes, but I adore this song. It's so ominous, it's seedy, and it's got some great lines.

    "Morning broken out the backside of a truck stop"

    "Then I found a place, it's dark and it's rotted.
    It's a cool, sweet kinda place where the copters won't spot it."

    Another song that flits by, but not quite without notice. This one's has bunch of Gord-lines that I really enjoy, though they seem disparate and tossed together. It's entirely possible, knowing our pal Downie. This song is sold almost completely by God's delivery.

    "To boldly clap in a room full of nothing
    You never know, it could be one of those
    Poignant evenings"

    The title track brings the back momentum, and we get another lush track, with Gord and the backing vocals ringing with intensity. Especially:

    "Either it'll move me, or it'll move right through me"

    A gorgeous track, through and through.

    A party staple, though returning to the darkness possibilities in human life. The lyrics are taken verbatim from a hockey card, and tells the story of Bill Barilko, a Toronto Maple Leaf. The story implies a curse was laid over the team when Bill disappeared, which feels like a very common folk interpretation of events like this, infusing them with evil and superstition.
    A little slower, but again, the mystery oozes from with great swells in the chorus.

    The acoustic cut off this album is likely their best ever. We keep with the sad and unfortunate themes. The song tells the true story of David Milgaard, a man falsely accused of murder. He served 23 years before exoneration. This song, like this whole album, is rife with imagery:

    "Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies
    Wheat Kings have their treasures buried
    And all you hear are the rusty breezes
    Pushin' around a weather-vane Jesus"

    The song brushes with the idea of a fickle and unaccountable media, and the public whom they can influence.

    "Twenty years for nothing, well that's nothing new
    No one's interested in something you didn't do"

    "Late breaking story on the CBC
    A nation whispers 'We always need that he'd go free'"

    Not my favourite, but a good song. The boys sidle up to punk rock with the blasting guitar.

    A damn, strong closer once again. We take a lighter tone here, with a great recurring vocal hook that's a joy to sing:

    "I'm tired of loving recovering loving recovering loving recovering"

    Don't really know what this one's about it's fun.

    * * *

    If you made it this far through my rambling repetitions, bravo. This isn't even my favourite album.

    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the fifth installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 9th, 2019 at 03:43 AM.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  9. #9
    I like how you did your review. It's a lot more detailed than mine are to be honest.

    Interesting note on Locked in a Trunk of a Car. I was watching a rebroadcast of the 1970 World Series which, for some reason, was from CBC instead of NBC. They kept breaking in for news reports about the October Crisis. At that point, Laporte was still assumed to be alive. Of course I'm cursing at the TV because they broke into Boog Powell hitting a Home Run (yes, I'm an Orioles fan ).
    Hidden Content Hidden Content Hidden Content Hidden Content

    And check out Gertie's blog on her favorite top twenty-five albums between 1955-2017 Hidden Content

  10. #10
    Information comes from the album liner notes, Wikipedia, Google, and special mention goes to hipmuseum dot com. All errata are entirely mine alone. Also, this format’s pale imitation was consciously and unconsciously stolen from mrmustard615 and Trollheart.

    1994: A zenith year.

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    The darkness has been growing for years and here we find the Hip at their most somber, most surreal. Day for Night is brimming with strangeness and lyrical potency. The guitar tones vary widely between tracks and the sounds we get are eerie and out there. It feels like they’ve recorded the leakage of an ersatz consciousness.

    In my books this is number one. Far and away, number one. Every album so far contributes to this one. We get the acoustic, we get the rocking, we get the country, we get the profundity. But this time we’re slumming with strippers and prostitutes, we’re considering murdering our husbands, we’re drowning by the thousands at sea… we’re in the shit.

    In 1994 the boys also had their biggest American appearance ever – They played two hit songs on SNL after fellow-Kingstonite Dan Aykroyd petitioned to have them perform.


    We stroll into the first cut, starting acoustic but adding some heavier sounds soon after. The verses keep that tip-toe tempo until “I can guarantee” which suddenly brings down a storm. Backing vocals are really brought forward here and I enjoy them a lot.

    I was unaware, but this song loosely follows the plot of a film called “Double Indemnity” (1944), in which two people conspire to murder the husband of a femme-fatale. Gord studied film in his younger days and every album is replete with film references, from plots and characters to film jargon like “tableau-vivant.”

    Whackadoos shooting Niagara Falls. They did it. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they died. This song seems like the ultimate “if your friends asked you to jump off a cliff, would you?” The man isn’t merely in the barrel; he is being strapped in while filled with reticence and confusion. He may be doing it for fame or attention, he may not be sure. And all the onlookers without the nads to do what he does wonder why he would do this crazy thing.

    We have a rollicking track here, which seems appropriate given the subject. If you set this song to someone going down rapids, I think it would be perfect.

    The city at night after the rain. Didn’t really know what this one was about until research. It was written, along with another track farther down, for a friend of the family who passed away. It seems to follow our protagonist who moves through the wake, and later the house of the man who died. The gymnast outside the window is his daughter.

    He may also be referring to the departed’s widow, or child.

    Despite the morose topic, the song itself is vivacious, with hint of anger? I’m not sure, but I love it.

    Another slow build song. This is decent, intense, but I find it impenetrable lyrically. I think that puts me off a bit. Apparently “the cops went into a crowd” at a Hip show in El Paso for real, but I found no further details on this. Perhaps there was a photograph of this event, and in it, the assaulted man’s mouth is open. In the still of a photograph, he could be yawning or snarling…?

    The punk track. This one has a couple lines taken from an old labour movement song of the same name, written by Hazel Jones. Research also reveals that Gord may be yelling about Nazis, new and old.

    I dunno, but I like it.

    Depending on the alignment of Jupiter, this could be my favourite Hip song ever. I probably shouldn’t say because this whole post will just that, repeated. Anyway, an ominous, springy guitar sound, soft drums with a tabla (I think) join us for this weird scene.

    “One day you'll just up and quit
    and that'll be it.
    Just then the stripper stopped in a coughing fit.
    She said, ‘sorry I can't go on with this’”
    “Just then the room became more dimly lit
    as the emcee carried on with it:
    ‘And now that I got you all strangely compelled,
    I'm afraid Candy's not feeling well’”

    An evocative masterpiece. Again, Gord mashes two things together to confuse and get you thinking. Here, we begin with a scene in which a ship has gone down, and her crew is floundering in the water. The music matches, with a beat that underscores the frantic situation.

    “The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
    and those left in the water got kicked off our pantleg
    And we headed for home.”

    The “pantleg” line gives me chills to this day. Later in the song, he speaks about the sound of “fingernails scratching at my hull,” those of the unselected mariners who were left in the wake of rescue ships. It is perfect. Not one word out of place to paint this horror.

    The song twists this terrifying scene with a call from a woman. Suddenly this call, whatever it may be about, doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Lots of ambiguity that for once I don’t mind.

    According to Gord, the song is specifically referencing the sinking of the Bismarck during WWII, and the ship that abandoned people in the water was the Dorsetshire.

    Love the spare introductory beat on this one, which leads into a unique, grinding guitar tone that I don’t think the Hip ever use again. The bass is doing most of the driving on this one in the first half. It’s an awesome change-up. Toward the end you get some playing around with feedback, and I think a bagpipe?

    While not exactly on the nose, the chorus “Ruby honey, are you mad at your man?” is a quote from an old bluegrass song. That song seems to imply that someone is going to kill the man Ruby’s upset with. I think. I believe the music video made it clearer.

    The second song written about Gord’s friend of the family. According to hip museum dot com, this man saw Gord as the son he never had, so the relationship was close. He also lived with Gord’s family for a time.

    This one seems angry that he’s died. Not that I blame him. But we have an odd line you wouldn’t expect in an ode.

    “We don’t go to hell
    Only the memeries of us do”

    “And if you go to hell
    I’ll still remember you.”

    Our main acoustic cut. This one’s got some nice imagery. Seems to call back to Nautical Disaster:
    “Defanged destroyer limps into the bay
    Down at the beach
    it's attracting quite a crowd
    As kids wade through blood
    out to it to play”

    This one’s a romp that has yet another of my favourite Hip verses:

    “I want a book that'll make me drunk
    full of freaks and disenfranchised punks.
    No amount of hate, no load of junk
    no bag of words, no costume trunk
    could make me feel the same way”

    This is the song that made me buy the album long ago. I think Gord’s voice has a slightly higher pitch that works for me. Tons of great lines on this one:

    “We're sitting in the Baby Bar bereft
    at a shadowy table out past the sentences end.”

    “We often stop in these conversations,
    things we say here stay here forever amen.
    When everything seems either funny or lousy,
    funny or lousy, that's where it usually ends.
    An emergency without end.”

    “But your finger starts to wiggle
    and landscapes emerge.”

    Agh! There’s so much goodness of this album! It’s a crescendo from start to finish. This is a slow ditty.

    “There's a trace o mint
    wafting in from the north,
    so we don't fuck with the 401.
    It's bigger than us or
    larger than we bargained
    I guess it's just not done.”

    The 401 is a highway that goes though Toronto. If there’s a 50 car pile up in January, you can bet it’ll be somewhere on the 401.

    “His great grandfather worked for Goodyear.
    He'd see the blimp on Sundays.
    Wonder what the driver knew
    about making rubber tires.”

    “There's submarines out there under the ice,
    avoiding and courting collision.
    An accident's sometimes the only way
    to worm our way back to bad decisions”

    “My great grandfather was a welder.
    He helped to build the Titanic.
    He didn't certainly think
    that is was unsinkable.”

    The closer, probably the strongest yet. We power through to the finish in a spectacular blaze, ever enigmatic, ever impassioned, a love song. When the last note fades, I always feel as though this album has come and gone too fast.

    “'Roses are worth more dried than alive.'
    Such a you thing to say.
    O how I adore you
    when you reinvent a rosy cliché”

    “Roses are difficult everywhere
    you must promise me you'll stay.
    These long stems are freakish if anything,
    but we can cut ‘em down for the vase”

    With all that said, wait patiently while I find the time to bang out the sixth installment.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

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