[Album Review] The Tragically Hip | Phantom Power

Welcome to the 8th 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 Phantom Power right here

As for me, well it was Sarah who turned me on to Phantom Power. I’ll let her tell the story and I’ll just say it wasn’t listened to by us until a year or so after it came out.

At the time, I remember not digging the album’s first single, Poets as it was endlessly played on the radio. My ears picked up on the high falsetto of a backup singer harmonizing with Gord Downie that I could not unhear. It drove me bananas.

Phantom Power ended up growing on me as Sarah continued to bring the album with us for trips in the car. We spent a lot of time driving across Ontario in the early 2000’s as we visited friends and family, took trips to Ikea to look and not buy, vacationed at my Nona’s cottage, etc. I’m positive we once listened to Bobcaygeon while driving through Bobcaygeon.

Songs like Fireworks became more jovial while anticipating the arrival of somewhere special, while other songs The Rules became more somber during the rides back home. It ended up becoming a truly great album to drive to.

Steve Berlin produced most of Phantom Power with the band and his goal was to push the Hip beyond writing songs with different variations of the same riff during the verse and chorus. A trope of ’90s rock that they got bit stuck on during their previous studio album.

Phantom Power sees the band stretching it musical legs on a songs like Thompson Girls, a nice pop ditty that has a full fledged lyrical chorus. But other songs remain true to their formula. Bobcageyon, the album’s most successful tune, has no chorus at all. Instead, its lyrics start talking about Willie Nelson and wine and eventually end up being about the voices of white supremacists ringing out with an Aryan twang. This song was a hit in Canada.

Speaking of Gord Downie’s lyrics, the man is hitting homeruns all over the place. There are so many memorable quotes, like on Something On which he wrote during Ontario/Quebec’s Ice Storm of ’98 while his “Imagination was having puppies”. My favourite line is:

The ice is covering the trees
And one of them is interconnecting
With my Chevrolet Caprice

I remember seeing the cars covered in ice and trees knocked down after the same storm.

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Escape Is at Hand for The Travelling Man easily is my favourite song on the album. The slow groove sucks me in and never lets go, very much like Grace, Too does on Day for Night. Gord talks about meeting up with someone at a club while live music is playing. His description of the event takes me right there.

I have to shout out Rob Bakers “underwater”-ish lead guitar on this song too. His solos would never wow you with a lightening fast shred but he would just hits those notes with the right feeling. He also does sports some awesome slide on the album’s final tune, Emperor Penguin, going almost full Duane Allman on the track.

To me, The Hip sound rejuvenated on Phantom Power. Credit might go to taking a year off from the studio after Trouble at the Henhouse, but they also had a drive to better themselves and it shows on the recording. I think highly of this one.

4.5/5

Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday (Hopefully!) with Music @ Work.

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Get more Hip in ya:

[EP Review] The Tragically Hip – Self Titled EP
[Album Review] Up To Here
[Album Review] Road Apples
[Album Review] Fully Completely
[Album Review] Day For Night
[Album Review] Trouble At The Henhouse
[Album Review] Live Between Us
[Album Review] Phantom Power
[Album Review] Music @ Work
[Album Review] In Violet Light
[Album Review] In Between Us
[DVD Review] That Night In Toronto
[Album Review] Yer Favourites
[Album Review] World Container
[Album Review] We Are the Same
[Album Review] Now for Plan A
[Blu-Ray Review] Bobcaygeon
[Album Review] Fully Completely Deluxe Edition
[Album Review] Man Machine Poem
[Blu-Ray Review] Long Time Running
[Blu-Ray Review] A National Celebration
[EP Review] Saskadelphia
[Book Review] The Never Ending Present | The Story Of Gord Downie And The Tragically Hip

26 comments

  1. I remember one of the guys at work labelled this “Phantom Talent”.

    No comment….

    Anyway, you 100% nailed it with this review, and not for the first time. I love this album. And it’s also my favourite packaging of all their albums.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I need to get this one on vinyl. For me personally the last studio HIP album that I thought was solid from start to finish. Great songs/production and packaging. Something On is perhaps my fav off of this record.
    Great stuff fella

    Like

    1. Yeah, Something On is a great tune. I haven’t listen to a complete Hip album after this one until Man Machine Poem. So I’ll have to see if I agree with you over the next few weeks.

      Like

  3. I like the artwork but really struggled to get into this album. I played it a few times and I felt like it was typical of the 90s when bands tried to see how they fitted in.

    “Bobcaygeon” is a special standout for me and the best track by far.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like this one, man. Something about the songs… the grooves… the words… delivery… it’s all just really excellent. Before you know it the hooks are in.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agreed about Escape is at Hand – though that falsetto in Poets is a selling point for me!
    I too really like listening to song names in their geographical locations, listening to Bobcaygeon in Bobcaygeon is the way to do it!

    Liked by 1 person

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