The 14th album from Kingston, Ont. band The Tragically Hip brings a unrefined heart-on-sleeve roughness that’s part of the true band experience, northern style.
The record comes in with a Radiohead-like abstraction that continues until the sounds settle into more familiar terrain. It’s nothing new, just variations on the theme the group has explored since the 1980s.
In A World Possessed by the Human Mind has the classic Hip formula: Gord Downie’s stream of consciousness delivery against the band’s grind and groove. His images remain evocative and obscure, usually poetic and entertaining. What they vary is how dark or melodic that grind can be. Here it’s melodic and chordal but edgy and unfinished.
A lot of The Hip’s sound and style has a suggestion of trance music from Downie’s unchained images to the group’s monolithic pulse; they drone but they never dirge. What Blue and In Sarnia both have those qualities.
In Sarnia is a spacious update with reverb soaked chords and an uninhibited vocal performance.
The album’s title is an accurate suggestion of the material within, Downie style. The songs all flow to a similar pace and sound as though they were taken from live-on-the-floor sessions.
The production is dark and focused on drums, and the electric guitar chemistry of the group. The band dynamic is the record’s drawing card rather than any particular track.
Great Soul stands out for having an inspired vocal and corresponding hook that’s elevated above the other songs. Tired as F–k is a unique track, a brash vocal against an electric folk guitar riff that ends too soon.
Although it is easy to detect certain Hipsterisms on Man Machine Poem, The Tragically Hip are also committed to making an exploratory album within those bounds. They came up with a cohesive collection of material that has gems like Ocean Next and Machine that give a glimpse of their visual, atmospheric side.
Ed note: On Tuesday, The Hip announced on its website and through social media that lead singer Downie has terminal brain cancer.
At the same time, the band said it will go on tour once more to promote Man Machine Poem, which members said, “feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.”
Dates in B.C. include the Save-on Memorial Centre in Victoria July 22 and Vancouver’s Rogers Arena July 24.
Tickets go on sale June 3.
Visit thehip.com for more information.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest releases for The Morning Star every Friday.