Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tragically Hip - We Are The Same

Eleventh album from well-named Ontarian troupe, once purveyors of meaty, gritty bar-raddled indie rock with skewed country as well as Minneapolis leanings a la The Jayhawks (but never quite) here have either progressed or been pushed into a corner crammed full of sweetly shuffling, slightly askance cross-country glances. Either they've been cast adrift exploring pastures new or panhandling for the pension pot and ascended to soft-rock heaven if the twee aww shucks shrug of Coffee Girl, replete with trumpet solo (look, only The Waterboys can execute the trumpet in pop) and others (the rather aimless The Exact Feeling) as they drift around on waves of atmospherics then fade away into the vast void swaddled in layers, nay oceans, of Bob Rock's schmaltzing, string-laden, pop-burdened production making it resemble Coldplay's elder brothers who still have Sheryl Crow posters in the glove compartments, despite the shards of bitter lyrics from vocalist Gord Downie providing necessary distance from such would-be pretenders to their peerage (apart from when his voice, as on closing segments of highlight Speed River and Now The Struggles Has A Name, veer into lamb-bleating). Shame, as some of these could be majestic, hushed acoustical spook moments (country stroll through opening Morning Moon on it's bleary bed of Fleetwood Mac style backing choir) or massive, well, rock-crushing crescendoes like the Springsteen meets Joe Jackson Honey, Please and aforelysaid Speed River. The broodingly elegaic The Last Recluse resembles that Connell's '74-'75 song and one fears it could be the soundtrack to Chris Martin's onanistic gorging sessions if he could replace Bono on his bedroom wall. Alas the spectre of the sanctimonious one also appears on Love Is A First and that, as on the Radiohead meets Peter Perrett Frozen In My Tracks or the REM tinges of Queen Of The Furrows, doesn't equal the sound of a bandprogression through reinvention. The nine and a half minute opus that is The Depression Suite has a questioning refrain (quite often) of 'What if this song does nothing?' and 'Don't you wanna see how it ends?', one of which wouldn't trouble even the most part-time of armchair philosophers and the other which will largely be met by indifferent shrugs. It's a nice trip while you're there, though for the aching stretch to new horizons this doesn't follow the example of fellow country cohorts the Cowboy Junkies amazing Miles From Our Home album. Much of this is forgettable and unaffecting and has some of the stink of coffins of promise unfulfilled.
Stu Gibson

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