Welcome to the 11th 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 Between Evolution right here!
As for me, this past week was my first time listening to In Between Evolution and my initial impression were not good. The title felt somewhat appropriate, as parts of the album show the Hip stretching into punk, a genre I hope they are not planning to evolve into. As the week wore on, I reached the acceptance stage and embraced some of the album’s moments of brilliance.
The Hip hired producer Adam Kasper who previously scored some major hits when working with The Foo Fighters. I really liked how he split the guitars onto left and right speakers, à la AC/DC here. Not that this album has a hint of AC/DC on it, it is just a cool rock ‘n roll effect. What I don’t care for is some of how he handled Gord Downie’s vocals.
The albums first two tunes, Heaven Is A Better Place Today and Summer Is Killing Us, has Gord stretching to peak range. It sounds like he is struggling to get through these two. He is also buried in the mix at times with some lyrics overpowered by guitars.
Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park is better. Gord is still struggling here but not as dramatically since it is a slow jam. As the title suggests, the lyrics for this one are odd. So, I had to look up who the heck Gus is for context. Gus was indeed a real life Polar Bear on display at the Central Park Zoo until his death in 2013. He became a bit of a phenomenon in the ’90s when he began swimming obsessively for 10-12 hours a day. No one could figure out why. Some thought he was depressed, others said he was neurotic or a flake. He became the first zoo animal in history to be treated with Prozac. After reading that, I could see why Gord wanted to sing about him.
Vaccination Scar was an immediate hit with me. Honestly, it has nothing to do with current events. Here is were The Hip reach that ol’ bar band vibe. Gord sounds on key and in the pocket. Also, Rob Baker’s slide makes an appearance on a Hip album in God knows how long. This is a good one.
The middle of the album is made up the guitar driven tunes It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night, The Heart of The Melt, and As Makeshift as We Are; and some mellow tracks New Orleans Is Beat, Mean Streak and You’re Everywhere. All are decent but only just stand on their own. The riffs for the guitar driven tracks are a little catchy but fairly basic. They lack the hook of a New Orleans is Sinking. The mellow tunes are standard and lack Gord’s usual lyrical bite. Not bad, just not great.
Now, the last three tracks… This is The Hip. felt at home with One Night in Copenhagen. This would have make for a punchy 2nd track on the album. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but it is short and has some great momentum throughout.
Are We Family is the album’s first genuine moment of melancholy. Its clean guitar riff sets the mood for Gord’s thought provoking lines. Here is the opening:
It’s only human to want to inhabit every feeling you’ve got
And more often than not let’s take it to the nth degree
I just can’t help but to think of the pain of a family dispute here. The stuff said in the heat of the moment. The stuff you don’t fully mean and not have said if you were not worked up. Great tune.
Finally, Goodnight Josephine might be the first solid closer The Hip has ever had. If I was making a Hip mixed tape, this would be my finisher. I’ll leave you listening to the lyrics and try to figure out if Josephine is alive or dead. I love the horns harmonizing with Gord’s ba-ba-ba, na-na-na, chorus.
In spite of a strong closing, In Between Evolution just cuts the mustard. The band went for a raw, rock energy at first, but they were 10 plus years past that phase in their career and sounded like it. I commend The Hip for always trying to add a little something different but the good songs on this album show that they are better when they are themselves.
The first two songs: 1.5/5
Last three songs: 5/5
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday (Maybe) with That Night In Toronto.