The Tragically Hip’s music demands more than listening, it commands you to pay attention. With lyrics so heady, so deep, and so damned appropriate for anyone with a brain in their noggin and a heart behind their ribs, it is full of inescapable truths, surprising melodies, and an uplifting oddness that has made them inimitable and true originals, going strong for more than a decade.
It’s unusual for a band to open a disk with their two weakest tracks, but that’s what they’ve done here. I almost wonder if it’s meant to scare away the faint of heart, or those looking for the surface fix of a hooky pop single. The first two tracks of the Tragically Hip’s latest CD, In Violet Light [Rounder Records] are basically straight-up, 1970s style rock and roll (with many dips into this style throughout the disk, probably in part due to its famous classic rock producer, Hugh Padgham, who’s behind names like Sting, XTC, Genesis and Phil Collins). While it appears that tons of alternative-era bands are gravitating back that way (just look at Local H!), it was an initial letdown for a band as original as the Hip.
BUT THEN I reached track 3, “The Darkest One,” and it became evident that this CD is essential to every thinking-person’s collection, if only to have the joy of listening while reading the lyrics in its intended poetic form, with line breaks and divisions of space; the visual pause and new paragraphical beginnings.
The next track, “It’s A Good Life If you Don’t Weaken” opens with an electronic, dreamy magic feel you won’t find on any 80s album, and the vocal rhythms are back on familiar ground, disjointed, emotive, and urgent as they were ten years ago with old hits like “Nautical Disaster” and “New Orleans is Sinking.”
“Silver Jet” is one of the coolest tracks on the new disk, and would be on the radio every five minutes if ClearChannel had a clue to what good music was. This song has it all: screwy guitar, great lyrics, and percussion that won’t let you sit still. And then there’s the lyrics in this album…the lyrics! Isn’t that what Hip fans are really after? The CD is complete with the literary references, quotes, and inspirations that propelled lead singer/lyricist Gordon Downie’s creativity here. It’s always interesting to get a peek at the bibliography that’s behind a great artist’s mind.