Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tragically Hip - Now for Plan A and a Rant

"I once was tragically hip, and beautifully fine. Now my beautiful hips, are tragically wide." Menomena's recently released track Plumage, from their fine album, "Moms" (listen here).

The Tragically Hip are neither Tragic nor Hip. Discuss.

Tragic? Naw, the five guys have been successful since their first full-length. Unless you think the guys have been sad about not achieving huge sales in the U.S. or internationally. Doubt it. I mean, the Hip has pockets of fans in New York, California, and points in between, so things are good. Hip? Well, I'm not sure if the band has ever been the "cool" option like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, or Chilliwack have been at one point or another. I just read a few people cutting down the group online the other day, but they weren't actually criticising anything specific about the band, which is pointless.

I read an online editorial recently that questioned the "Canadian" music critic stance. It basically said that people like me are complacent, the unfortunate product of force-fed Canadian content regulations. The writer questioned why we should write about, say, Metric, but I'm not entirely sure why - is it because the band is popular, or successful, or their sound is accessible to many? I write about an artist because i think they're got something to offer that is good, or unusual, or fun, or fantastic, or weird. I certainly don't feel we all have to look for the next cool thing, or next big thing, but I don't normally write about something that no one will read. That doesn't mean I don't post about some lesser-known artists, but I like to mix it up. Why not?

The reason I bring this idea up now? Those people dissing The Hip, as far as I could tell, have no clue about the music they make. They probably know popular songs from seventeen years ago, or maybe the ones from 25 years ago. My point is, Hip songs today sound NOTHING like those earlier songs. So to diss them outright? Makes no sense at all.

Anyhoo, The Hip`s brand-spankin` new album Now For Plan A has arrived, so you are now free to decide whether my hopes and musings upon hearing the first two released songs were on the ball or off the wall. Just based on unheard song titles, I wondered if songs like Man Machine Music would be a little more adventurous than Streets Ahead or At Transformation. And it is, at least a little bit. Find below quick musings on most of the new tunes. If you haven't picked it up yet, hear here, or go here for set instead of individual clicks.

While the instrumentation on Man Machine Music sounds vaguely like a classic 70's rock tune I can't put my finger on, the vocals contain some Downie desperation and the whole thing ends with a punishing finish.

The Lookahead more or less follows the pattern started with the last album, a mid-tempo roller that walks a tightrope between mellow comfort and falling onto rockier ground.

We Want To Be It lays into the same groove, with warm guitar sounds and round bass tones laying a backdrop for Gord to growl "Drip Drip Drip! We Want to Be It" in a manner that does not invite a sing-along or even a hum-along.

Now For Plan A shimmers along in that same not-a-ballad, but not-a-rockin' tune mode, with some nice background vocals (I don't know by who yet - Sarah Harmer? Julie Doiron?). It's a hazy, dreamy, hypnotic track, and the boys take their time with this one. A favourite so far.

The Modern Spirit runs along at a gentle trot, and it hits me that the guitars on this album often chime or ring, but rarely roar off into big riffs or powerchords.

On the last record, at least Love is a First had some squirrelly guitar squawks, but Robby Baker seems content to lean back on this one - I'm tempted to say that it's Johnny Fay's record, because he and Downie seem in the forefront as much as anyone.

About This Map contains some nice Edge-y guitar in the verses, some fine Downie wordplay, but the chorus lost me.

Take Forever romps out of the mid-tempo morass the band seems to enjoy, with Fay leading the way again - -this might be the most old school Hip song on the record.

Done and Done starts down, and Gord's weary protagonist sounds like Morrissey in the gutter.

Goodnight Attawapiskat has some gritty six-string, and though I can't tell what Gord is on about, this tune is probably the closest to rock and roll we get after at Transformation or Streets Ahead. Another good one.

Overall, The Hip`s last album took a number of listens for me to get it, and I ended up thinking that one was the best thing from the Kingstonians in a long time. I have to give this a few more replays, because although there are lots of bright spots, it isn't hitting me yet. I have to appreciate that the boys are doing some new things - I just don't know if they are for me.

The Lookahead We Want to Be It Now for Plan A The Modern Spirit About This Map Take Forever Done and Done Goodnight Attawapiskat Streets Ahead At Transformation

Photo at top of post by David Bastedo.

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