Welcome to the 10th 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 In Violet Light right here!
As for me, I believe I have only listened to In Violet Light once before. I only became aware of the album a few years ago, when this strange man named Aaron from keepsmealive sent my wife a CD copy. I did not listen to it then but I got a report back from Sarah that she liked it.
Fast forward a bit when Sarah and I were just getting back into collecting vinyl records in 2017. The Hip had announced that In Violet Light was getting a pressing on vinyl for the first time and I nabbed one for her. I mean, I couldn’t let Aaron one up me.
I remember giving it a casual spin then and thought it was pretty good. Then filed it away to not listen to it again until this week. Hearing it with fresh ears, I have to say… this is better than pretty good. I keep waiting for a dramatic drop in quality in The Hip’s releases as most had jump off the band’s… band wagon by now. But, outside of a few tracks that I’m lukewarm on, I found the majority of In Violet Light to be a solid listen.
Of course, there are some ill placed tracks that do the album no favours. The Hip seem to be consistent with this. The first is the opening track Are You Ready. I really don’t care for its riff as the notes sound off to me. If Lana was stacking this one up against AC/DC’s Are You Ready? in a “Songs with The Same Title” post, the thunder from down under would win in a landslide.
The next two tracks are aces. Use It Up would have made for a much better album opener. I like the blues shuffle hook and when Gord breaks into the chorus… “Then there’s music that can take you awaaaaaay….” Great stuff. I can’t believe it wasn’t a single. It crossfades at the end with The Darkest One, a well executed pop number that would have fit nicely on Music @ Work. This one was a single but I believe it did not make any waves.
It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken gives the album its first somber moment. This has Neil Young’s Cowgirl in The Sand vibes all over it. Especially the clean ‘n jangly guitar during the verses, then how it growls when the chords are stuck during the chorus. This was released as the album’s first single but again, no waves. Back to back to back underrated gems, I tells ya.
The lyrics for Silver Jet is where the album nicks its title from. I’m not too jazzed about this one. It is OK but Gord’s vocal melody on this one really doesn’t do much for me. I’m not sure if she realizes it but Sarah has been humming this one all day, so she might have a different take.
The Hip get back to the goods with Throwing off Glass. This has the Hip lightly giving us that “underwater” sound they do so well with some heady lyrics from Gord. He is in a car with a girl when “boys with haircuts” drive by and throw a rock or something at them, covering them in glass. She asks, “Why is the world so creepy?” and Gord responds with “Tell her that it isn’t…” while emphasizing “isn’t”. In spite of the world’s “barbarous threats” it is quite wonderful. Fun fact: This song was included on the sound track for the COMEDY hit Men With Brooms.
All Tore Up opens side 2 and it’s a bit of an underrated track even if it’s also a little by the numbers. Leave has the opposite effect on me that Silver Jet does. This time I enjoy Gord’s melody better than what the band is doing. There is a light Sloan vibe when the backup vocals join in with him. Good times.
I’m a little surprised to see that A Beautiful Thing was not released as a single since it seems like it is primed for one. Heck, according to setlist.fm they only played the song live 24 times. Maybe they felt the lyrics are a little too on the nose or it was pointed out how its structure is shared with Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe. I can’t help but to hear Beavis and Butt-head chiming in with a “duh duh, duh duh” during it. Whatever, it is a pretty tune that didn’t hit me right away but it grew on me dramatically as the week went on.
Another hidden gem is The Dire Wolf. Gord gives one of my favourite Hitchcock films, Lifeboat shout outs with Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee referenced directly. So that is a big win. But I also really like the frustration and positivity of the chorus:
Though bigger boats been done by this water
Though better boats been done by this water
Though better boats been done by less water
The subtle change in the lyrics do it for me. And this is were I sort of wish the album ends. The final tune, The Dark Canuck does gets better when it finally arrives to its groove. But, it takes too long for me to get there. Another ill placed tune as it slightly leaves you with a “meh” impression.
If there is one thing I am learning from this series is how I need to get to know albums before I review them. In Violet Light felt a little off when I first started listening to it last Monday but by Friday I am grooving along. That has happened more than a few times with The Hip albums I am less familiar with.
After reading a bit on The Hip, I’ve learned how in the early days the bones for a lot of their songs came out of jams on stage. I don’t know it for a fact, but it feels like In Violet Light is a return to that process. The previous couple of albums have been great, but definitely more structured than the early stuff. This feels like a return to that early vibe. But, I am going to have to score this one a little less than Phantom Power or Music @ Work as it has a few questionable tunes. Overall though, The Hip have again left me with an album that I am more fond of than not.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday (Maybe) with In Between Evolution.