Welcome to the 4th 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 Fully Completely right here!
As for me, I could not blame anyone who has spent time with a radio in Canada for believing that Fully Completely is a greatest hits album.
This album spawned SIX singles that all became STAPLES on the Canadian airwaves. By staples, I mean they were not just played in 1993 and then forgotten about like any old single. Turn on any of Canada’s rock stations and you will hit Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Fifty Mission Cap, Courage (for Hugh MacLennan), At the Hundredth Meridian, Looking for a Place to Happen, or the title track Fully Completely at some point before the end of the day. Guaranteed. Heck, you might even hear Wheat Kings, which has to be their most popular album track ever.
Gord Downie’s lyrics have deep Canadian references with icons, locations, history, and forgotten hockey players all part of his fodder. They are so abundant that many consider this to be the most “Canadian” album ever made, with many attributing that album’s lopsided success in Canada (1 million copies sold in the Great White North vs. 100,000 in the USA) to The Hip’s devotion to singing about Canada.
These people are full of it.
I guarantee most Canadians didn’t know who Bill Barilko was until 50 Mission Cap became a hit. I’m sure Gord himself learned of him when he read the back of that hockey card from 1991. I’ll also guarantee most do not know what a “50 mission cap” is or at least had to look it up. (It was a leather hat given to WWII pilots after completing 50 missions. Once receiving one, they would work them in so they would look more experienced.) Most Canadians are busy soaking in the history lesson, they completely miss how the tune has way too much cowbell.
Like I said in my Road Apples review, the references to Canadian culture do play their part in resonating with Canadians, but I believe that is only after they take the time to learn what Gord is singing about. Most Canadians don’t bother to do so.
I also give zero credit to the baseless claim that “Americans are too dumb to get The Hip.” It is a terrible take from some dumb Canadians. Throughout the history of pop music in the USA, Americans consistently embrace foreign acts, including Canadian ones. Right now (love them or hate them) Drake, Bieber, Nickleback, and Celine Dion are as big as you can get in the American music scene.
Personally, I have no idea why the Hip couldn’t make a dent in the US with this album. It is loaded with some great rock ‘n roll with lyrics that can speak to anyone. Heck, do lyrics even matter that much anymore? A huge portion of the US is listen to K-Pop right now. K. Freakin’. Pop.
Anyway, as much as I enjoy the hits on Fully Completely, the deeper album cuts have become the tunes that I look forward to hearing the most. Pigeon Camera is a downright pretty tune, and Lionized and We’ll Go Too are solid rockers. The Wherewithal is the heaviest song I think they have ever done, and I like the mysterious vibe of Eldorado. It’s a nice way to cap off this album.
The production value has received a huge upgrade over the previous two albums as well. Fully Completely is produced by Chris Tsangarides whose previous project was Concrete Blonde’s Walking in London. Instead of trying to get their live sound in the studio, Tsangarides captured the band’s own studio sound for the first time. I like it. Not only does the album sound brighter, but each member of the band has a greater presence than they had did before.
Although Fully Completely doesn’t have a tune as deeply moving as Fiddler’s Green or any big guitar driven riffs like in New Orleans Is Sinking, overall the album is yet another step forward for the band. You have many hits, sharp production, and album tracks that keep it from having any weak points… save for the cowbell in 50 Mission Cap. The Tragically Hip were firing on all cylinders at this point making it a great place for anyone wishing to begin their journey with the band. Canadian, American, etc.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday with Day For Night.