Welcome to the 5th 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 Day for Night right here!
As for me, Day for Night is the first and only album from The Tragically Hip I owned before meeting Sarah. When we eventually combined our collections, we had two copies of it on CD until one of us either traded or gave one away.
Hearing the album’s first song, Grace, Too on the radio was what pushed me to get it. The tune’s melodic bass and “underwater” effect on the lead guitar pierced my “metal only” heart. It is like that one part in Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love or that other part in ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses, but overall it has a somber vibe like The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for The Devil. It made the hairs on my arms stand up.
The rest of Day For Night didn’t click with me. I liked Grace, Too enough to keep the CD in the collection, but I never listened to it much. In fact, it wasn’t until this week that I sat with the entire album.
To peel back the curtain a bit on my process for these tandem reviews, I spend the full week with whichever album we are working on. I play it endlessly in my car during my commutes while taking down notes whenever I get home. That way I’m ready to write on Sunday.
If I were to have written about Day for Night on Monday, this review would be different. After coming off of the rowdy bar band feel of The Hip’s previous three albums, this sounded downright jarring. I recognized all of the hits. Grace, Too, Greasy Jungle, Nautical Disaster, So Hard Done By, Scared, and Thugs. But the slow ‘n sludgy vibe of it all at once, including the album tracks, felt off.
The Hip’s first manager, Allan Gregg had a similar experience after he first heard Day for Night. He told the band to go back to the studio and finish it. Granted, he had some other serious issues occurring at the time, but it was the end of the partnership when The Hip insisted the album was already done. They
fired him did the Canadian thing and asked him to be a friend instead of their manager the next day.
“Monday Mars” was definitely in camp Gregg. I even made a note on that day,
“The Hip were really lucky to have Canadians willing to give them a wide berth to experiment.”Monday Mars
“Friday Mars” saw it differently,
“Nah, this thing is brilliant. Best Hip album ever.”Friday Mars
Gregg (and the Canadian music industry) wanted The Hip to record Fully Completely 2: The Quest For More Money. They did not.
The band didn’t enjoy the recording process for Fully Completely where every band member was captured separately, then layered together later. As a result, they were not pleased with the final product in spite of its success. So much so, they had several of Fully Completely’s songs remixed by Don Smith (Road Apples, Up To Here) when they were included on their greatest hits, Yer Favourites.
In my review for Fully Completely, I
complained about pointed out the overuse of cowbell on 50 Mission Cap, but J. nailed it in the comments; it is how it sounds like a metronome that is off-putting. When listening to its remix on Yer Favourites, the tune definitely has more swing.
For Day for Night, The Hip wanted Canadian super-producer Daniel Lanois behind the board as they were all fans of his previous work on U2’s iconic albums, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Unable to land him, they got Lanois’ right-hand man, engineer Mark Howard instead.
Hearing the band’s concerns about recording, Howard had them play together along with the soundboard in the same room. There was no glass to separate the two. Also, to keep the vibe fresh The Hip would play the entire album from start to finish. Never the same song twice in a row. Howard then spliced these performances, taking sections from each until he had what he felt was the “perfect take”. Some of what ended up on the album were not even recorded through the soundboard. Most of the studio version of Nautical Disaster is made from outtakes recorded with a DAT machine.
And what a song Nautical Disaster is. (It is ’bout I get to reviewing this album, eh?)
Plenty of songs fade out but not many fade in. For this one, the band repeatedly plays a chord progression with little variation throughout, Gord sings two-note verses loosely based on the sinking of the Bismark, and Rob Baker’s guitar solo goes full Neil Young. In fact, this song is about 85% Neil with Crazy Horse. Only Neil could get away with a song about Cortez the Killer or killing his baby Down By The River. Only Gord can get away with lyrics about a guy escaping a sinking ship on a lifeboat while leaving the listener with the lyric, “As those fingernails scratching on my hull.” This song was a hit in Canada.
The rest of the album can be just as dark. Grace, Too can have multiple meanings but its central theme is a woman being lead down the wrong path by a shady man. Very #metoo in 1994. Daredevil is about going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and Greasy Jungle is about attending a friend’s funeral. The grease is the oil floating at the top of the funeral home’s coffee. Another hit in Canada.
Yawning or Snarling uses the backdrop of a clash between the audience and cops at one of their shows in El Paso. The title refers to how a photo of someone yelling or yawning can look similar. Photographic evidence doesn’t tell the whole story. So Hard Done By is about a stripper who is not feeling well… or maybe strung out.
Thugs represents that U2 vibe that they wanted from Lanois. Despite the song’s title and video, I think this one is about a couple who having an argument while building a “nest” together. I could be taking the lyrics too literally though. I’m writing this in a room with walls Sarah and I painted together. I “did the rolling” and she did “the detail”.
I’m usually not fond of depressing lyrics. Especially from this era of rock since I found a lot of it to be self serving. Gord approaches these themes from a different angle. He has a knack for describing dark periods of history and what it was like for the people who lived it. However, his lyrics were not always meant to be taken as a history lesson. Sometimes the references were an analogy.
There is a line about Terry Fox in Inevitability of Death. Fox was a Canadian hero. An amputee who attempted to jog across Canada in 1980 while missing most of his right leg. The 21 year old athlete was amputated when cancer metastasized in his knee. He turned the tragedy into the “Marathon of Hope”, an effort to raise money for cancer research. His attempt was cut short in Thunder Bay when cancer spread to his lungs, and he later died at the age of 23. Today, The Terry Fox Foundation and yearly “Terry Fox runs” have earned approx. $500 mil so far for cancer research. “Terry’s gift is forever green.”
Some believe because of that one line the song is about Fox, but it isn’t. Gord repeats the line “We don’t go to hell, the memories of us do.” The same can be said for heaven. In the minds of many Canadians, Terry will forever be in heaven because of the good he spawned while he was here. We don’t go to hell (or heaven), the memories of us do. Whoa… that is deeeeep.
How can I rate that level of observation with any score other than perfect?
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday with Trouble At the Henhouse.