Has there ever been a more anticipated 13th studio album than The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine poem?
I wasn’t planning on writing a review, and never have before, but I downloaded this at 9:00pm tonight, and I’m on my 5th run through. I miss having the booklet so maybe having nothing to read is why I’m writing? Anyways, what we have on our hands here is the last Tragically Hip studio album… Fuck.
Lead songwriter / singer Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. If you’re reading this you probably already know this. Fuck cancer.
The Hip have been Canadian musical icons since the 80s, and unlike a lot of bands, have continually explored new ground each album. From Up to Here, to Road Apples, Day for Night, Fully Completely, Phantom Power, each and every album has shown how the band has grown and changed but remained consistent. Gordon Downie’s, ever cryptic but always poetic lyrics, and the corresponding need for the band to find a sound to fit the former feels like a natural progression. Man Machine Poem feels like the biggest leap, and best landing in a long time. It’s an album — not a collection of songs.
It opens with “Man” and an intro unlike anything on any other Hip album. A steady drum beat and Paul Langlois / Rob Baker’s guitar line keeps it comfortable and leads us into a surreal space that sets up the feel of the album. Where do our feelings and motivations come from? Man? Machine? It feels like Downie took his ever raging live stage microphone battle to a quiet conversation. It draws you in.
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind is the first single. “Just give me the news / it can all be lies”. Wow. What a start with what we have in mind. Apparently it’s not the cancer, but…
The instrumental build and emphasis of the guitar riffs showcases the terrific production. This is a classic Gord Downie micro-analyses of that single moment that makes all the difference to a personal interaction. It’s that one look ( “..then I think I smiled…”). Our whole world is seen through the culmination of so many singular moments, and how we expect them to happen and, more importantly, how we perceive them to have happened. The human hind.
Ok something lighter. What Blue. Great soft rock, easy head bopper love song. I’m selling it short. Best line “I love you so much, it distorts my life. What drove and drives you drove and drives me too”. You’ll put this on playlists.
Next up comes the Canadian geographically specific name-drop that everyone wishes was their city (well, maybe not Attawapiskat…) In Sarnia. This is a song where the cohesiveness of the bands shines over Downie’s vocals. I would imagine that, if you’re from Sarnia, it’s an instant favourite.
Here, in the Dark. This is a song that would have felt at on home on some of the very early albums. It’s an up tempo rocker with a slick Gord Sinclair bass line. I hope I see this live.
Great Soul. This is my favourite track, though I might not be the majority here. A steady, driving, drum/bass line set against a ranging guitar line against a grumble verse and soaring chorus – classic Hip. “Nothing works, oh and nothing works, I tried nothing and I’m out of ideas”. It’s a like a throwback song to before “Music at work” with less confidence but better execution. I know I’m missing the deeper lyrical meaning on this one, more time asshole editor, please.
“Tired as fuck” Who can’t get on board with that? Jazzy riff (ok, not that jazzy – I’m still listening) that lets Downie riff and rant a bit about balloons, motivation and the greedy palace. The production (Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin) on this song seems top notch to me, that way it builds up and back down seamlessly, letting you focus on lyrics and the melody exactly when you want to.
“Hot Mic” is another up tempo song that follows closer to the musical feel on “at the lonely end of the rink” with darker lyrics and heavy drum / bass lines than to some of the others on ManMachinePoem. While not my favourite on on the album, I could see it being a hit live.
Ocean Next. This is the most innovative / exploratory song on the album by far, with a slower but hypnotizing rhythm and sound. “I’m so relaxed” I’d sure that this song will resonate extremely well with a large contingent of fans. *Toke
Machine. We’re here at the finale. A quick Johnny Fay drum beat picks up instantly with a subtle but building guitar melody , reminiscent of “Man” at the start. Gord weighs in quickly lyrics like “I watch the end of man and I dream like a bird.” It continues to grow to back musically / lyrically against the intro song “Man”. This leads exceptionally well into listening to the album again, which I recommend.
Each Hip album has had a feel, and stood stronger as a whole than on its parts. This is no exception. No Hip album has completely captured my attention this much since Phantom Power. WTF are you still reading this for? It’s not as good as the album, which won’t hold a candle to this final tour. Anyways, writing this excused me from listening to the album for hours.