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