The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
On Man Machine Poem, it’s almost impossible to hear the same band that wrote ragged-rock barn-burners like Courage. The Tragically Hip of 2016 are an evolved bunch that lure you in with sonic subtleties rather than brute, bludgeoning, dual-guitar force.
The Q107 crowd may be disappointed by the creepy, acoustic-heavy approach on Ocean Next and the dramatic rises and falls in the adult-contemporary-leaning In Sarnia. Aside from a few tracks, like Hot Mic, whose angry stomp evokes 2004’s In Between Evolution, much of the record may not captivate on the upcoming tour.
The album comes, of course, after the news of lead singer Gordon Downie’s terminal brain cancer. But it was recorded before Downie’s diagnosis, and while it would be easy to connect certain songs to his illness, including plodding acoustic downer Tired As Fuck, that’s likely misguided. Like all Hip records, this is a snapshot of a band constantly moving away from their past and toward a strange musical unknown. It’s fitting, then, that Tired As Fuck, oddly released as the 2nd single, is the worst song on the record. The majority of songs begin small and grow, through layered production, into some of the Hip’s most expansive material ever.
Producer and Broken Social Scenester Kevin Drew’s fingerprints are all over it. Opener Man has Downie repeating “I’m a real machine / you’re a real machine” atop sprawling, often converging guitar lines. Standout What Blue finds Downie at his most introspective alongside Bobby Baker’s instantly hooky fingerpicking. Take out Downie’s warble and cryptic poetry and you’d have something close to a BSS record.
All of which adds up to a band hell-bent on existing in the present tense. Whatever happens in the future, fans should look at this album not as how the band wants to be remembered but as they were at this moment in time.
Top track: What Blue
The Tragically Hip play the Air Canada Centre August 10, 12 and 14. See listing.