Welcome to the 6th 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 Trouble At The Henhouse right here!
As for me, prior to this past Monday I had not listened to anything past a few singles from Trouble At The Henhouse. Upon my first listen, “Monday Mars” was not impressed. Despite it earning a Juno for best rock album in 1997 and it sporting their most recognizable song ever, Ahead By A Century, for the first time since the band’s debut EP I was experiencing some legit weak moments.
But after spending the 7 days with it, I’m ready to give Henhouse a pass because it ain’t all that bad.
Part of the problem with Henhouse might be how the band produced most of it on their own. Mark Vreeken is listed as a co-producer but when it came time to mix what they had recorded, Steven Drake, a friend and member of the Canadian rock band The Odds knew there was some trouble. (Which makes the album’s title somewhat ironic.) Hired to mix the songs, Drake discovered how his friends were not confident with the material and needed feedback from an outsider.
For one song that wasn’t working, Drake discovered an edit that needed to be made on the master recording. This is in the days before Pro-tools when splicing a master tape was tricky business. Mess it up, and the whole take can be lost. He told the band as a group his plan and insisted that it needed to be done. They all reluctantly agreed.
Later on the same day, Drake recalled how each member of The Hip came to him individually to thank him for making the edit. They all hated the song as it was but didn’t want to offend the other members by saying so. Oh, boy.
But there is only so much an engineer can do. Two songs, I feel did not turn out well are Butts Wigglin and Coconut Cream.
Butts Wigglin has a repeated line, “In my opinion the drug is ready”, which when within its original context as an part of the The Kids In The Hall film Brain Candy, makes sense. But it is out of place here. I would rather have it left off.
Coconut Cream is about a Christian circle jerk… I guess? To be clear, I’m not a religious person who could find the song offensive on that level. I just think it is not very good or clever. Is the song comparing organized religion to a circle jerk? If so, the lyrics are too on the nose for Gord’s usual work. And please don’t ask me what a circle jerk is. I don’t believe it is a real thing and I’m not looking it up to find out.
One of the songs on Henhouse that did grow on me throughout the week is Springtime in Vienna. I found it to be jarring at first. The Hip earned their fame during the ’90s but they never really sounded like a ’90s band. They are not foreign to the ’90s trope of slow/light verse and fast/heavy chorus, but this was the first time they went full Nirvana with it. Grungy guitar and all. It is trendy for its time but I ended up liking it.
700 Foot Ceiling, Don’t Wake Daddy, and Let’s Stay Engaged grew on me in a similar way as well. Even though parts of those songs do have that “phoned in” feeling, I think they’re a little better than OK.
A few songs that were homeruns from the start. Gift Shop is a solid opener. Its slow build with some metaphorical lyrics about life and a gift shop at the grand canyon is all great stuff. Ahead by A Century to this day is over played on Canadian radio, but I hardly listen to the radio anymore. So, I enjoyed listening to it this week.
Flamenco is my favourite of the bunch. It is beautifully composed and the one line in the song that goes:
Maybe a prostitute
Could teach you
How to take a compliment?
Love it. Such a cool way of saying, “Just fake it, why don’t ya?”
Much of the album does sound rote though. The last two songs, Sherpa and Put It Off are psychedelic-ish attempts to sound experimental but they are bland. Apartment Song is quite forgettable too. These songs sound like they needed someone to push them to do better.
Using the 2Loud2Old formula it figure this one out…
- Gift Shop – Keep
- Springtime in Vienna – Keep
- Ahead by a Century – Keep
- Don’t Wake Daddy – Keep
- Flamenco – Keep
- 700 Ft. Ceiling – Keep
- Butts Wigglin’ – Drop
- Apartment Song – Drop
- Coconut Cream – Drop
- Let’s Stay Engaged – Keep
- Sherpa – Drop
- Put It Off – Drop
…it appears that we have an album that is mostly good with 7 outta 12 for keepers. It is really that last half that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. At 52 minutes long, there is certainly 10-15 minutes that could have been cut to make for a solid 35-40 minute run. Overall, I think the songs on Trouble at the Henhouse stay on script does make up for the weaknesses. So, to sum it up…
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday with Live Between Us.