When The Tragically Hip made their first full recording in 1989, Up to Here, they sounded as fresh as REM or Pearl Jam, but they played with the rhythmic toughness of the early-70s Stones. After ten discs and an EP (their first release), their songwriting still sounds edgy and they continue to play with intensity, in contrast to some of their contemporaries. The Hip have experimented with new directions on occasion, especially on 2000s Music @ Work, but theyve never strayed far from the backbeat. Its a shame this ferocious live bands popularity in Canada, its homeland, hasnt traveled to the US.
Producer Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters) has given the Hips new disc, In Between Evolution, a dense, close-up sound, and hes mixed Johnny Fays kickdrum (the heartbeat of this band) too low. Yet the disc comes closer to capturing the live energy of the band than any of their discs since Trouble in the Henhouse (my favorite). The arrangements for the short, tight songs focus on the telepathic interplay of guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois, and Kaspers production highlights their complex precision. Gordon Downies obscure lyrics are more topical than usual, but he doesnt preach. He seems more bemused than angry.
Canadian reviewers seem to be applauding In Between Evolution as a return to Hips earlier, harder-rocking style, but there are plenty of surprises here, such as the tender sadness of "Are We Family" and strange, almost happy wordless vocal in "Goodnight Josephine." The bands last disc, In Violet Light, had some good moments, but producer Hugh Padham didnt seem to know how to give the band the punch they needed. Kasper gives the Tragically Hip a strong return to form. The Hip are in the midst of a US tour, and I will have seen them for the fourth time when this review appears. If they come to a town near you, dont miss them.
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