Album: “Now For Plan A”
Released: May 2012
Listen to it: When you are trying to figure your life out
In Canada there is a rock band that every Canadian knows and refers to as “our Rolling Stones.” Meanwhile in America, the group has difficulty filling 3000 seat theaters in major cities. In fact, they don’t even bother to book Denver. Their live shows in their home country are legendary sold out affairs for 30,000 plus. In America? Seasoned rock fans still ask “who are they?”
The band is The Tragically Hip and for 25 years they have been rocking north of the border to significant fanfare. They conjure up a distinct sound with your standard make up of two guitars, bass, drums plus a gallant lead singer whose distinctive voice is augmented by a slinky stage presence. He also happens to do a lot of murmuring, mumbling and raw screaming much like Michael Stipe from R.E.M. Yet in spite of a charismatic stage presence of their leader Gordon Downie and a dozen rock solid releases, they remain an enigma in the USA.
I am hopeful this will change with their latest release “Now For Plan A.” The band has produced a few radio friendly songs like “100th Meridian” and “Grace, Too,” not too mention the elegantly engaging “Bobcaygon” plus the greatest song ever written about hockey, “Fifty Mission Cap.” All worthy of downloads for any rock aficionado’s collection. However, their breakthrough has been wanting.
Their sound remains a bit too sophisticated for the masses and this new album doesn’t contain any chart topping hits. However, it’s their most realized release to date. Lyrically, it’s a concept album for middle age angst. And though that doesn’t sell as much as Justin Beiber’s teenage musings, The Hip deserve the attention of conscientious rock fans that like substance in their rock and roll.
The album explores dimensions of doubt and uncertainly at such a mature level you’ll find yourself pondering the message while dancing to it. As the digital revolution has forced legions of workers to reassess their skills and place in the new model society, loss souls are making due without a map as they attempt to get back to the level of confidence that sustained them for so long. As the lyrics to the seminal “About This Map” say “We’ve come too far, to be feeling like this.” It’s the sentiment that last throughout the album, but The Hip go beyond complaining to provide a hopeful view of the possible.
Is it time for reinvention or to resign to our troubled predicaments? The Tragically Hip suggest you go back to Plan A. The album opener “At Transformation,” with the signature jangly guitars of Rob Baker and Paul Langiois, has Downie exclaiming that we all have “a glittering chance at transformation.”
It’s an album that will please their long-term fans, since it doesn’t veer far from their incomparable sound of the past. While hopefully new listeners will be attracted by the raw optimism in a world of changing values and skills sets. Or as The Hip put it in “The Modern Spirit,” they plead to the listener’s soul to “just stay together.” Each song offers a glitter of the possible down to the final chord. As in the closer “Goodnight, Attawapiskat,” Downie and company reveals a ray of light for the downtrodden as they reveal “you are on your way.”
We can only hope this band is on the way to the success they deserve in America.