Welcome to the 9th 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 Music @ Work right here!
As for me, this week was my first time listening to Music @ Work from start to finish. I had heard the title-ish track before, My Music At Work as it got a lot of play on Canadian radio and MuchMusic when it came out. I don’t believe I have listened to it since.
Hearing it with fresh ears, I have to say I really dug it. It is a bright pop-rock tune that has any song from their previous album, Phantom Power sounding muddy by comparison. And Phantom Power sounds great. This is the exact same team of Steve Berlin/Mark Vreeken/The Tragically Hip in the producer role and they all stepped up their game. The guitars have a real growl, the drums have definition, and Gord’s vocals are expertly layered on top. Even with the Hip signature of little to no variation between the verses and chorus, it is a well crafted and executed song. I don’t think it is possible to do better.
Which makes the decision to place Tiger The Lion in the second spot puzzling to me. I can get into a slow ‘n sludgy groove, but not a lifeless one like this song has. Really, any other song on this album would make for a better follow up. Because the rest is quite good.
I hate to recommend for anyone to skip a song when listening to an album, but if you do skip Tiger The Lion, you’ll get right back into the groove the opening track set. Lake Fever has sort of a What I Got by Sublime vibe to it with its acoustic guitar bounce. Once Gord’s vocal melody kicks in though, were 100% Hip. The song evolves into a sweeping melody by the end. Great tune.
Two more good ones keep the momentum going. Putting Down has The Hip showing that they can write a catchy chorus, and Stay is another acoustic number with Gord giving it his full vocal range.
The Bastard is a paint by numbers rocker that is a little forgettable. Not bad, but just doesn’t move the needle in either direction. The vocal melody for the Completest during the verses sort of has a BareNaked Ladies vibe and I approve of Rob Baker’s guitar tone on this one.
Freak Turbulence is the first straight up rocker. This is where the album would naturally finish during my morning commute, so it was fun getting in the car at quitting time and having it kick off the drive home.
Gord is always has some fun lyrics that stand out and I like how Sharks opens with this:
Sharks don’t attack the Irish,
It’s mostly Australians.
I’m sure there is a stat somewhere that can back that statement up. It is a nice reminder how when stats are taken out of context can back up a lot of kooky statements.
Toronto #4 is a nice, floaty little number with back up vocals by Julian Doiron. Her vocal styling here slightly reminds me of when Robin Lane or Emmylou Harris would back up Neil Young in the ’70s. Wild Mountain Honey has a bit of a funky beat with the repeated lyrics: “I don’t want to put another thought in my head.” Man, I’ve been there.
The lyrics for Train Overnight has me thinking more of a train of thought rather than a physical one on a rail road. You know the kind when your brain won’t shut up while lying in bed at night.
The album begins its wind down with the solid groove of The Bear, then As I Wind Down the Pines sets for a relaxing closer. Julie Doiron is on background vocals again but this time I could hear Sandy Denny from Led Zeppelin’s Battle for Evermore. She is a very versatile singer and I can see why the band (Gord) wanted to work with her.
I wasn’t really expecting to like this one as much as I do. Many say the Hip’s classic period is over after Phantom Power but I think this is comparatively just as good as the previous few albums. They manage to stay out of the rut they were in for part of Trouble At The Henhouse by adding several additional musicians, like a cello and keyboards, which they have never done before.
More so though, they wrote some really solid tunes. There is an effort here to go a little more mainstream as most of the songs have a pop-rock vibe to them, but I don’t think that is what turned people off. I think most missed out on Music @ Work because they were burnt out on the band or maybe were taking them a bit for granted at this time. Admittedly, placing Tiger The Lion in a predominate spot did the album no favours, but once you get past that little speed bump you’re looking at a collection of songs that make for some nice additions to the library.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday (Maybe) with In Violet Light.