Formed in Ontario (Canada) in 1983 by Gordon Downie (vocals), Bobby Baker
(guitar), Paul Langlois (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass) and Johnny Fay (drums),
the Tragically Hip surfaced with a bland variant of roots-rock that often
quoted Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and REM.
Their self-titled debut EP, The Tragically Hip (MCA, 1987),
is still raw and energetic.
The catchy power-pop of Evelyn,
the folk-rock of Small Town Bringdown and the blues-rock of
Killing Time set the pace for the rest of their career.
Up To Here (MCA, 1989) continued in that vein, but the sources
are better disguised. Despite the filler,
at least the bizarre New Orleans Is Sinking and the funky
Blow At High Dough are
prime Hip ballads, catchy and tortured at the same time.
The band matured with Road Apples (MCA, 1991).
Bring It All Back and Twist My Arm (an almost ZZ Top-ish boogie)
lead the pack of songs that are both forceful and tuneful. The sequence is
broken by a few atmospheric, mournful ballads
(Long Time Running, Fiddler's Green,
The playing is tight and varied. The melodies are mostly subtle but effective.
The singer's clever (and frequently obscure) wordplay is half of the show.
Fully Completely (MCA, 1992) was a minor work, that mostly transitioned
the band from their rawer, Stones-oriented, phase to their sweeter,
REM-oriented, phase, but nonetheless contained
Fully Completely, The Wherewithal and especially
Courage, one of their most complex and emotional songs.
The macabre aspect of the singer's metaphysics
peaked with Locked In The Trunk Of A Car (a surreal ode to serial
At The Hundredth Meridian (an epic ode to the prairie as an ideal
Day For Night (Atlantic, 1994) is virtually a concept on death.
Grace Too, The Inevitability of Death and Scared
obsessively analyze the subject from more and more disturbing angles.
The Nautical Disaster is another peak of their art.
Trouble At The Henhouse (Atlantic, 1996) starts with a poker of songs
that virtually constitute a suite:
Ahead By A Century, Springtime in Vienna,
Gift Shop and Don't Wake Daddy.
By the time Phantom Power (Sire, 1998) was released,
Downie's singing (and, in general, talent for storytelling)
had become the main attraction.
The band followed him faithfully along rock and roll numbers
(Poets) and ballads (Bobcaygeon) but sounded somehow
uncomfortable of his ever expanding role.
Music @ Work (London, 2000) is their less exciting work. While still
warm and soulful, even the best songs
(My Music At Work and The Bastard)
have lost their psychological power.
Julie Doiron duets with Downie
in The Completists, Toronto #4,
and As I Wind Down The Pines.
Tragically Hip's singer-songwriter Gordon Downie died in 2017 of brain cancer.
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