The Tragically Hip In Between Evolution

[Zoë/Universal Music Canada; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: hard rock, alternative rock, Canada
Others: Sam Roberts, 54-40, Matthew Good

The Tragically Hip have been steadily plugging away at the rock game for over 20 years now, growing before our eyes and in our hearts, and becoming true Canadian icons in the process. They are the band first mentioned whenever we Canucks are asked who's big here and unheard of everywhere else. They are more Canadian than a maple syrup covered Mordecai Richler! I mean, how many people have had both Don Cherry and the Trailer Park Boys in their video? It has to be tough to sit back and watch all these vacuous flash-in-the-pan groups and soulless artists like Nickelback and Celine Dion stroll along and explode all over the globe while quietly honing your craft under the American radar. Lead singer Gordon Downie has constantly worked on his style of poetic lyricism while the rest of the Hip actually try to play with passion: concepts not unknown to but unused by Shania Twain and the people who make Avril Lavigne's music whom Downie appears to address with the lines "When the drugs quit you/ As loyal as a fruit fly you'll mutter to yourself/ 'You talentless fuck, good fucking luck'" on "One Night In Copenhagen." This is more for the recognition than the cash bonus that typically accompanies it, though, because The Hip are, believe this, artists and not just entertainers like all of the aforementioned celebrities.

Downie's first solo album Coke Machine Glow was co-released as a book of poetry in 2001. I'm not talking some coffee chop, living in an Alaskan van with a one-word name type of hack shite here neither. It stands up as good, old-fashioned Canadiana up there with Atwood's finest, and like all great Canuck poets before him, it was tinged by our small but proud history, influenced by the classics, and as confusing as our politicians but basically entertaining, intelligently worded, and imagistically beautiful. Not many bands on MTV have based a song on a Wallace Steven, Robert Lowell, and a Raymond Carver poem (all American I might add).

Compared to 2002's contemplatively toned and spiritual In Violet Light, In Between Evolution is more musically accessible for mainstream markets, closer to earlier hits "New Orleans Is Sinking" and "Blow At High Dough" than "It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken." The lyrics, though none are based on famous poets, are some of Downie's best work yet. For example, on the surface "Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park" is about the bruin from New York who was diagnosed clinically depressed from living in such cramped quarters. But the lines "He no longer thinks anything that moves and/ Everything he sees is something to kill and eat/ What's troubling Gus? Is it nothing goes quiet?" extends the bear's problems to metaphor our own within the city virus. It isn't simply a case of cabin fever from our lack of room in these bustling urban metropolises, but our complete separation from nature, which in the process of creating all manner of solutions for the problems of modern living, some of which weren't major problems until Madison Avenue made them so (obesity, acne, natural body odors, crooked teeth), has in turn created scores of new, extremely profitable problems. If a bear can become depressed living in the big city, what do you think our higher brains are dealing with? And, of course, carrying this message is a cracking tune augmented by the intelligent guitar play of Paul Langlois and Bobby Baker, which helps make Downie's untraditionally styled lyrics easier to take in while he almost goes stream of consciousness rolling over and merging lines together producing originally worded and structured choruses. Most, not all but the majority of, Tragically Hip songs are like this.

So, while "It Can't Be Nashville Every Night" may be a thinly veiled criticism of Toby Keith's born-again patrioganda -- and there is a touch of mixed American feelings throughout the album -- it's not all negative and anti-American, because, as Downie pointed out in an interview with Chart Magazine, "It's not America that you dislike. It's certain people and certain policies." Treading the line of pursuing the right kind of American attention while staying true to your Canadian roots and loyal fan base and keeping artistic integrity in tact has got to be a job and a half. Yet, despite their virtual anonymity outside of Canada, they still have love for the American people, if not their half-wit Texan with an A-bomb president. So with Trag aging like fine wine and Adam Kasper (Queens Of The Stone Age, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters) producing, this may be their best chance down south yet.

1. Heaven Is A Better Place Today
2. Summer's Killing Us
3. Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park
4. Vaccination Scar
5. It Can't Be Nashville Every Night
6. If New Orleans Is Beat
7. You're Everywhere
8. As Makeshift As We Are
9. Mean Streak
10. The Heart of the Melt
11. One Night in Copenhagen
12. Are We Family
13. Goodnight Josephine

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