I lost sight of the Canadian band somewhere in 00's. Having discovered the band with their third album, 'Fully Completely', circa 1993, 'Road apples', their previous effort, became one of my favourite albums of the 90s. "New Orleans is sinking and I don't know how to swim", from the band's first album 'Up to here', is a line that still runs around my mind every once in a while, including that haunted, driving beat of this great song. The rocking sound slowly left the band and songs became more complex, softer and, in my humble opinion, less interesting. Make no mistake. It is the right of every artist to search for his or her own voice and pursue their careers in any way they can imagine. I may just not like what I hear (or see, read, etc.). In the 00s I saw them perform again in Utrecht. Live they still were fantastic. TTH rocks in a sweaty, swampy, slightly uncomfortable way and are great musicians. With Gordon Downie as front man; mysterious, singing hard to understand lyrics, poetic and arty stealing the show. A front man if you ever saw one. What Jim Morrison could have become, had he lived long enough.
And now a new album in 2012, Now for plan A. At first listening I thought, yes, TTH is back. This is the sound, the songs and the typical form of rock I'd liked so much in the 90s! If I'd looked at the first notes cynically, I could have written "A step back for TTH", "Repeating old ways", but I'm just not that kind of guy. The first notes of 'At transformation' made me prick up my ears hearing the two rhythm guitars left and right and the lead lines of the third guitar weaving in and out of the song. Downie's singing with a low voice, before he goes into semi-overdrive with that typical waver in his voice. The bass and drums pump the song forward with accents in all the right places. It only took TTH about one minute to make me feel a little better than before listening to 'At transformation' for the first time.
TTH is a band that is around since the mid 80s and come from Kingston in Ontario, Canada. For some reason they have missed out on a real breakthrough in the rest of the world. In Canada their reputation and status are at the highest levels. The band did not let the missed chances in the rest of the world hinder them. They are still around in the same line-up and working hard at making its 13th studio album the greatest success possible.
Of course I exaggerated a little. 'World container' is an album I listed to, just like 'Music @work', but not as intensely as I'd listened to 'Up here', 'Road apples' and 'Fully completely'. From 'Day for night' it became harder for me to enjoy the band. Now for plan A gives me the idea that I will listen to the album more often. There's pace, rock, inventive guitar playing and rests. 'Streets ahead' has this drive that is so typical for The Hip. It's like the song is just straight up and down rock and at the same time it has all these little things going, with not in the least great bass playing by Gord Sinclair. As a whole the song reminds me most of Midnight Oil at its best, as on 'Earth and sun and moon'. The same goes for 'Goodnight Attawapiskat'. There's also a little U2 in the guitar sounds here and there.
TTH is also able to come up with a great ballad. Title song 'Now for plan A' has this great cascading guitar notes at times. Deep in the mix there are all sort of things going on, while in the front there's all this space between the two voices, the lead guitars and an odd cymbal. As if they are standing in a room with other sounds creeping through the walls and recede again. A beautiful song and great musical effects.
Now for plan A captures The Tragically Hip at the top of its game. The rocks, plays slow, but there is no holding back on what the band is good at. Something which I thought they did to often from 1994 onward. And as the songs are of high quality this 13th studio effort is one to cherish. Where Van Morrison at almost 70 professed that he has no plan b, The Hip just presents its plan a: to rock and play!
You can order Now for plan A here