Welcome to the 3nd installment of my reviews for the discography of The Tragically Hip! These are tandem reviews with my amazing wife, Sarah who is posting her own over at Caught Me Gaming. So be sure to check out her write up for Road Apples right here!
As for me, Road Apples is the best example I know of a rock band who avoided a sophomore slump. Just as their previous album, Up To Here, this one contains four tracks that Sudbury’s rock station, Q92 loved to play several times a day throughout the ’90s. Little Bones, Twist My Arm, Long Time Coming, and Three Pistols were ingrained into my brain during shifts of pumping gas or heat treating pipe on the overnight shift. Three of those tunes are solid rockers while Long Time Coming became their first ballad to be a hit single here in Canada.
More important though is how Road Apples is a welcomed progression in the band’s song writing. As much as I like The Hip’s previous album Up To Here, I can admit how its tunes are a bit of the same flavour. The bouncy acoustic number, Boots Or Hearts being the only exception. There are plenty of those kinds of songs here, but the band does mix it up better.
Cordelia is a big one for me and I’m floored by how it was not a single. I like how it is layered with its mellow parts before slamming into its groove. And that slide from Rob Baker is killer. Definitely not your average Hip tune up until this point.
I also really like the Doors-y vibe of Luxury with its slow bass driven vibe and lyrics about a motel. Fight is another one that is a little different, which almost (but not quite) has a Stones-ish break up song quality to it.
Gord Downie’s lyrical style fully come into its own at this point too, and his words are loaded with Canadian references. They can range from the overt like on Three Pistols, a song about Tom Thomson, an early 20th century Canadian artist who died on a canoe trip right before The Group of Seven formed. Trust me, this is a big deal to Canadians.
Then there is the downright subtle winks like the line in Long Time Running:
Well, well, it’s all the same mistake
Dead to rights and wide awake
I’ll drop a caribou
I’ll tell on you
“Drop a caribou” refers to the Canadian quarter, which has an image of a caribou on it. He is dropping it into a payphone. This is part of why his voice resonated so well with many Canadians. So many Canadian artist are encouraged to not be “too Canadian” so they can relate better to the American audience. The Hip didn’t seem to ever want to make that sacrifice.
Gord’s lyrics would often be purposely obtuse too. Many of the Hip’s songs have webpages dedicated to figuring out the meanings behind the lyrics, when they’re really open to interpretation. Although sometimes Gord would not hide behind ambiguity and wear the meaning of a song on his sleeve.
This is where we get to the the deeply personal Fiddler’s Green. Quite possibly the best song this band, and Gord Downie in particular, has ever written.
It is about Gord’s nephew who passed away while the band was recording the album. I haven’t read anymore into it because I feel everything else you need to know is said already in the song. I’m glad Gord reserves this style for when the topic was something truly special to him because in turn, it made it truly special for me.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday with Fully Completely.