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After twelve studio albums, with the first EP dating back to 1987, The Tragically Hip have set some pretty high expectations for themselves. All five members of The Hip, as they are often called for short, have surely grown accustomed to the widespread recognition and acclaim that they receive not only in their native Canada, but in the US as well. With two Juno Group of The Year awards, it’s understandable that fans of The Hip await new releases with anticipation. October’s Now For Plan A delivers on all the high hopes that true Hip fans understandably hold.
One of the reasons this band has found success is because of their originality in the realms of musical composition, lyrics, and overall presentation. On Now For Plan A, the backing band functions just the way a contemporary indie-rock ensemble should; they keep a moderately paced beat, get loud when needed, and give vocalist Gordon Downie just as much space as he needs to corral and then release his thoughts into the air.
At first listen, the opening track “At Transformation” might be mistaken for a caffeine fueled Joy Division b-side, but it does not take long for the album to establish a sound of it’s own. These eleven songs are obviously influenced by a number of other artists, but the listener will be convinced that The Tragically Hip have their own very distinguishable identity. Just when there seems to be an obvious avenue for genre categorization, an unexpected bridge or intro comes at it’s own right time to fight the sense of predictability in the listener.
Songs like “Man Machine Poem” and “We Want To Be It” expose a simultaneously approachable yet avant-garde aspect of The Hip’s creative potential. Gordon Downie seems to be achingly combatting cynicism while he repeats the title, “Man Machine Poem” amongst other cryptic phrases that make just enough sense to lead the listener to a certain pasture of reflection, yet allows them to graze about as they please.
As briefly mentioned earlier, these are not the most innovative or game-changing guitar progressions, percussion grooves, or melodic arrangements, but the free-spirited vocals bring an original dynamic that the band has successfully tailored itself to. To give an example of The Hip’s technical proficiency and musicianship, “About This Map” showcases their talent and craftsmanship apart from Downie’s vocal content.
Mixed by Michael Brauer [The Fray, John Mayer, Coldplay] and mastered by Bob Ludwig [Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Train], Time For Plan A is as sonically pleasing as an album today can come. The stereo placement of the instruments is great and a lot of the songs have a certain analog-like luminance that wraps them in warmth and comfort.
It’s good to know that not a lot gets lost in translation between our northern borderline. Besides the unfamiliar reference to that remote Canadian land in “Goodnight Attawampiskat,” the band offers just enough so that both them and the listener feel involved and invested in the music. The Tragically Hip deliver a strong collection of songs that simply make the listener want to hear, well, more songs. And Is that not what this is all about?
If you liked this, check out:
“A Collection” by The Be Good Tanyas
“3 Pears” by Dwight Yoakam