The Tragically Hip has been around for 20 years now. Unfortunately, the name of these Canadian rockers only works within the context of our northern neighbors. “The Hip” are more than well-known in native Ontario, but beyond the southern borders, they remain virtual, well, unknown. They hold a considerate generational gap with today’s ‘hip’, with the band consisting of 40-something rockers. Today’s instant gratification infected youth, that embodies our hip-obsessed country, reveal it’s no surprise their following hasn’t gotten past Windsor. If they were played on our radio stations, they would be lumped in with adult-contemporary channels that feed us our normal daily dose of Dire Straits and Genesis. Their newly forged, and neatly polished records would serve as a footnote on the never-ending release party that our digital age has provided us with.
However, they deserve more credit than the previous paragraph appears to give them. Perhaps we should liken them much closer to Indie forefathers like Built to Spill (perhaps), just disguised as Canadians. Of course, they still have been an Ontarion (I think that’s a word) standard for a long, long time. And sure, the Kingston foursome will likely never realize the commercial success is America, something Canadian artists like Rush, Neil Young, Bryan Adams or even the Barenaked Ladies have, but, they hold their own up north and are properly respected for it. (Canadian Walk of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame, 14 Juno Awards).
So, what should one expect from The Tragically Hip’s latest creation? Is this the album that finally thrusts these Canadians into mainstream America?
No, and probably not. If anything, the Hip’s latest studio effort is just the Hip being the Hip, nothing more, nothing less.
It’s clear from the start of We Are The Same that this band is used to writing straight forward rock songs, which serve easy listening tastes as well as those who appreciate straight forward song writing. The album begins with a Neil Young-like riff in “Morning Moon” that flows into a enduring and endearing strum. They delve into different genres during the nearly hour long record. The have roots that range from country to hard rock, which is why despite their seemingly generic facade, they contain more depth then a first listen shows them to have.
The second track, “Honey, Please” gives the listener much more of an alt-country feel than the first, starting off with an almost Rascal Flatts-like opening drum and guitar sequence. The Tragically Hip’s issue with most of the tunes on the record is how they sometimes flow together. Most of them eventually lead into a strum section and repeatable chorus that lends them their generic label. “Coffee Girl” is the type of track that tends to label them blandly, with lines like “It’s hard to leave your bed” and “Your favorite mixed tape you popped it into the deck” that give generic a poor reputation. It’s lucky that their band has had years to perfect their sound, or lyrics like this would give them a bad name.
Still, The Hip do know their audience, and songs like “The Exact Feeling” prove this to a tee. Their country style guitar, simple chord structure, tambourine banging, steady drum sound that most bands left behind 10 years ago works for The Hip just fine. They do begin to stretch their sound on the back end of their album. Their lead single “Love is A First” starts with a strong guitar line and a more driven vocal track reminiscent of Ian Curtis, which turns into a Craig Finn-like second verse. While these two vocal styles seem to conflict in theory, it seems to strangely work.
This record will not jump out at you with crunching guitar riffs, memorable chorus lines or expansive drum work. It’s not likely to induce you to grab their tremendous discography or to make news on American standard websites or even American radio stations. What this record does reveal, however, is more than two decades of successful records, a very large following in their native Canada and their resilience in the face of a vastly changing industry. Perhaps they won’t headline a large tour in America anytime soon, but they seem to be doing just fine up north, and that appears to be as hip as they need to be.