Sunday, October 07, 2012

Tragically Hip: "Now For Plan A" (album review)

Few bands have had a shelf-life in Canadian rock as long as that of The Tragically Hip.  The group returned this week with Now For Plan A, their thirteenth studio record.

The arrival of a new Hip album always sparks in me hopes for a band renewal.  Unfortunately, time and time again those hopes have proven to be misguided.

The lead single and album opener "At Transformation" is typical of the band's recent work.  It's hard, dissonant, hookless, and ultimately unremarkable.  It, and songs like the blah "Streets Ahead" are exactly what inspired a friend of mine to dub the band 'The Tragically Dull'.

Gord Downie's vocals have become less consistent over time as well.  He can swing wildly from detached, cold, and soulless ("Man Machine Poem") to honest, organic, and passionate ("We Want To Be It").

The Hip get a boosts from fellow Kingstonian (Kingstonite?) Sarah Harmer, who pops in to provide harmony vocals on the title track as well as the roots rock ramble "The Lookahead".  She breathes a bit of life into those songs, but in the end it makes you wish she appeared on more tracks.

At some point in the last fifteen years The Tragically Hip lost the roll part of the rock n' roll that made them so damn good in the first place.  They finally recapture some of that on the tumbling and energetic "The Modern Spirit".  A bit of jangle in "Take Forever" makes it a decent toe-tapper.

It's become pretty clear that, much like fellow megabands R.E.M. and U2, The Tragically Hip have simply run out of things to say.  At this point they are making albums just for the sake of making albums.

Best tracks: "The Modern Spirit", "The Lookahead"

Track listing for Now For Plan A:
  • At Transformation
  • Man Machine Poem
  • The Lookahead
  • We Want To Be It
  • Streets Ahead
  • Now For Plan A
  • The Modern Spirit
  • About This Map
  • Take Forever
  • Done and Done
  • Goodnight Attawapiskat

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