Tragically Hip: The Series – Music @ Work (2000)

I know several people who really disliked this record. They said it was sub-par Hip, like the band had given up trying and just released whatever weird shit they could think of so they could keep their album-every-two-years pace. Once again, people miss the point. Sigh.

As it is in any creative unit, mood, experiences and environment can inform the final product. Wherever the Hip were at the time, whatever they were doing, this was what they were feeling, what they wanted to make and share. And quite frankly, to all you detractors, it’s still a really cool record whether you think it doesn’t compare to their bigger, more popular records or not. People seem to constantly look for reasons to find the Hip lacking, to declare them finished… I just can’t understand it. These guys are still making a vital music this country gets to enjoy so rarely. We should be embracing their shifts and whims. They take us to fascinating places.

The title track was built to be a radio hit, Tiger The Lion messes with blues tones and the musings of John Cage, and Lake Fever is a sweet, bouncy Hip classic. Putting Down is straight from the playbook: rockin’, anthemic and smooth. Stay finds happy middle ground between acoustic track and electric song, and it’s a beautiful song to boot. The Bastard, with middle-Eastern flavouring as its base, quickly grows into a great uptempo rock song. The Completists easily keeps that pace going, then Freak Turbulence ramps it up even higher! I had this record on while jogging the other day, and this middle series of tracks actually works great as motivation tracks. Try it! You’ll see!

Sharks brings things back down (just a bit), with some great lines and observations and a fantastic guitar line, building to a crash all its own. Toronto #4 is a weirdly beautiful track, so many bits and pieces working together to build a sound quite unlike anything else this group has released. I like it! Wild Mountain Honey teases with a great acoustic intro, then smacks you with another super-cool heavy riff. Play this at high enough volume and you’ll feel transported. Train Overnight’s shuffling beat and phoned-in sounding guitars is another expedition into a creative place only this collection of musicians goes to mine ideas. The Bear is truly lovely, all reverb vocals and another of those beats that draws you in and holds you rapt, and album closer As I Wind Down The Pines caps off the whole experience with achingly beautiful acoustic introspection. Listen hard enough and you can almost hear a campfire crackling behind you as this one plays. Such great lyrics, too.

See? There’s nothing to hate here, so long as you bear in mind what I’ve been saying throughout this entire series – you have to remember that these guys are capable of anything, so don’t just go looking for the next Courage. That’s not fair to them or to you. Just listen, embrace and enjoy. It’s all here for you when you want it.

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