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Friday, January 24, 2014

Winter weariness

It's cold here.

Bitter cold, single-digit cold. don't-want-to-leave-the-house cold.

This is the craziest, snowiest, iciest, coldest winter I can remember. But then again, winters tend to blend together into one big winter and none of them ever really stand out after awhile. If you were to ask me what the winter of, say, 2006 was like, I couldn't tell you. I have no recollection of it.

Anyway, this winter has put a serious crimp on my running regimen. I haven't run since Sunday afternoon and I feel as if I'm already turning into a slug. I don't normally go more than two days without running and now it's been four days. It's just too damned cold to go outside and do anything, and the only time I can run during the weekdays is when the sun is down--and there's no may I'm running when it's dark and the temperature is in the single digits. I may have to wait until Friday afternoon to run again, as I'll have some time during sunlight hours to go out.

I don't know if any of this is the least bit interesting to any of you out there, but hey, it's my blog, and that's where I'm at right now. This horrible weather is bringing me down and I'm officially through with winter--and there's still two more months of it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Tragically Hip: The Tragically Hip EP (1987) review

(The first in my series of Tragically Hip album overviews, in which I investigate the discography of this criminally undervalued Canadian band).

A long time ago, I mentioned that I wanted, at some point, to write in detail about one of my favorite--or favourite--bands, The Tragically Hip (hereafter referred to merely as "The Hip").

The Hip, as I've already mentioned here, are practically a national institution in their native Canada, but have only achieved cult status in the States (if that's an accurate description for how the band is viewed here--I really don't know).

I should mention that I've only been a Hip fan since 2006, and am not as intimately familiar with the band's history as their more hardcore fans north of the border (or even some here in the States, for that matter). Also, since many of the Hip's lyrics relate to specific aspects of Canadian history and culture, I'll only engage in lyrical analysis if I feel comfortable in doing so. I don't want to run the risk of interpreting something completely wrong. Having said that, I think I've read enough about the Hip and have listened to them enough that I can at least approach most of their lyrics without too much fear. But if any Canadian Hip fans read these review and want to let me know that I'm full of shit about something, I'll welcome your comments.

I've decided to review all of the Hip's albums in chronological order (which means that at the rate I write in this blog, I'll probably get to the band's most recent album, 2012's Now For Plan A in...uh...the year 2024).

So, without any further adieu, let me start with the Hip's first release, 1987's eponymous EP, The Tragically Hip.

Before I leap into the review, here's a little backstory on the band: The Tragically Hip formed in Kingston, Ontario in 1983 and took their name from a skit in the Michael Nesmith film, Elephant Parts. The band paid its dues for three years, gigging at small clubs and bars throughout Ontario until they were signed by MCA in 1986 and began work on their debut.

This is a review that won't take up too much of your time, because The Tragically Hip EP is a somewhat inauspicious debut. It's not terrible by any stretch, just not particularly memorable--and definitely not a clear indication that the band was about to embark on a successful 26-year recording career. There is none of the impressionistic lyrical content that would mark lead singer (and principle wordsmith) Gord Downie's later work.

Like most debut albums (or eps, in this case), The Tragically Hip is a rough translation of the band's live repertoire onto tape. The Hip had honed their craft playing on the bar and club circuit over the preceding four years, and they are a tight, rocking band on their debut. The energy in the performances makes up for whatever blandness there is in some of the songwriting. In the Hip's early days, they were a rough-hewn bar band, and had yet to develop--for better or for worse depending on who you talk to--the subtlety and occasional artiness that would characterize their later work.

A few of the standout tracks on The Tragically Hip are the opener "Small Town Bringdown," which is essentially what the title implies: an expression of the boredom and drudgery a young person experiences with small town life. "Evelyn" is a jittery, frantic, new wave-ish tune with a catchy sing-along chorus. Try listening to it, and not having "Ev-uh-lin, Ev-uh-lin, where were you last night?" stuck in your head for at least the next hour or so.

The true gems of the album though, are "Last American Exit" and "Highway Girl." The former, penned by bassist Gord Sinclair (by the way, could anything be more purely Canadian than a band with, not one, but TWO members named "Gordon"?) seems to be a relationship breakup lament told from the perspective of a musician on the road, and contains yet another anthemic chorus that sticks in your brain for a long time. The latter song is a brawling, swaggering, bluesy blast with Gord Downie bellowing in a manner that would make the L.A. Woman-era Jim Morrison smile and nod in approval.

The rest of the EP is full of solid playing if unremarkable songwriting. As a whole, The Tragically Hip is a flawed but promising debut.