Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem

I’ve been a first-day buyer of this band since Road Apples, 1991. You do the math. It should come as no surprise, then, that I bought this album yesterday, on its release date.

And this review? I am writing as I listen. I wanted it visceral, in real time. Innumerable subsequent listens will surely reveal more down the road.

Writing this is bittersweet. I love the Hip, have since Up To Here, more than half a lifetime ago for me, now. Through all the amazing records over the years, and my own couple of times seeing them perform live, through always having them in my exercise iPod because they are nearest and dearest friends to me…

Ever since Gord Downie announced his terminal brain cancer I’ve been a bit out of sorts, as pertains to this band. They’re so important, so much a part of my (and all of our) fabric and life that the thought of them potentially ending is quite disorienting. And this is me, some guy in Ontario who loves the band, so I can’t imagine what the band is enduring. That this might be their last studio record… it’s a tough listen. But I have to. I want to. And here it is.

Nevermind how hard it was to get tickets to the gigs (fuck you, scalpers. Seriously, FUCK YOU). nevermind that. We embrace this document. This album is our shield and our weapon. We can bring it into our home, we can hear it a zillion times (I know I will). That is a power we wield, and it is ours. Thank you, Hip.

First off, the cover. It looks like a little kid falling through the air, but to me it looks like a kid standing on dark carpet, looking up, leaning back. I assume that no children were tossed in the air during the making of this cover… Nice mullet, anyway.

Next, the sound. It’s huge. I played it in the good headphones, and there’s a roomy airiness to it all, everything larger than life and right there in your face. You can almost smell the dust coming off the stacks as they thump. I LOVE IT.

Let’s give ‘er, shall we?

Opener track Man starts off garbled. It builds into a beautiful, slow and aching soundscape. The band is restrained, yet tight, and the whole thing feels wide open. And there’s Gord over the top of it all, inimitable. There’s still a bunch of weird vocal whatevers, but the drums hold it all together, loud and clear.

Up next is In A World Possessed By The Human Mind, which is the single, and it’s a great one. That driving beat, and Gord’s words flowing with that delivery that’s only his. Whether the band is holding back, or propelling loudly forward, this could’ve been on Trouble At The Henhouse and fit perfectly. I love it.

What Blue is right up front, nothing hiding in the back. A true Hip song, those guitars, those drums. Only one band in the world sounds like this, and it is our beloved Hip. This one is canon. When he says “I love you so much / it distorts my life / what drove and drives you drove and drives me too…” sounds like the words of every Hip fan everywhere. Right back atcha, Gord.

In Sarnia is another slow jammer, with Gordie wailing over top. The music is so loud, the lyrics almost drown out, which adds an ethereal affect to it all. This is Music @ Work-era Hip, to me, and it’s glorious.

Here, In The Dark starts off slow, but soon ramps up into the first faster rockier song on the album. Of course, it’s a million things more than that, but for all that it is it’s another amazing, perfect Hip tune. Even worthy of Road Apples, it’s that good. Goddamn I am hooked on this record and I still have 5 tracks to go.

Great Soul swings and rocks, and the guitars jab away in the back as Gord and the drums propel us forward. What a brilliant tune, a piece of art unto itself.

Tired As Fuck has a lift to it, it’s searching… those restless drums, those guitars… what a beautiful track. Again I hear Henhouse, maybe In Violet Light. And believe me, as a fan of all the records as a whole, when I start saying it sounds like it could’ve come from one record or another, it’s a friggin’ compliment. What a track.

Hot Mic builds into a menacing stomp, and when it explodes it’s restrained but still among the rocking-est stuff I’ve heard so far. Those pounding drums, that throbbing bass line… fucking brilliance. It’s like they’re right here in the room with me, loud and clear and playing that “powerful stuff.” Holy hell. This oughta be a single.

Ocean Next starts us off with acoustic guitar gorgeous, then Gord’s vocals (with effects on them) come in and it’s a whole new ball game. Another slower track, it’s beautiful. When that bass thumps, it hits you right in the chest.

Machine has a steady beat, prominent hi-hat, and when it hits the main bit, the bluesy rock guitar and this whole sonic thing they have rocks so fucking hard that this track is a favourite already. The middle bit, the part that builds, filled me with so much happiness and hope and joy that I got up out of my seat and strained the headphone cord. And as the electronics die out to end the track, here we are.

Just like that, it’s over way too soon. The album, and (perhaps) this band as we know it. I’m adrift, honestly. I love this record. It is a GREAT Hip record, and I know it will stand up so very well indeed in the discography. There’s a part of me that wants more, though, the part of me that wants the Hip to never ever go away, to always be there, performing and creating and being themselves. And in a way, I know they will always be there. They always have been.

In Sum:

Let’s assume that Gord’s health was fine, and this Hip record was being released. I would feel the same about it in that (preferable) scenario as I do knowing what we know. This is an immediate, loveable, rocking, tasteful, experimental, perfect record. The Hip have outdone themselves on this album. If this is their last record, it’s a great one. I feel like I’ll only love it more as time goes on, too. It feels like one that each listen rewards that little bit more. I’m OK with that.

Much love, power, and support to Gord and the band in these times. It feels like understatement to say we wish you all the best. And thanks for this record. It’s a beaut.

***

For more essential reading, check out Boppinsblog’s excellent review of this record right here!

52 thoughts on “Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem

    1. keepsmealive says:

      I’m all for people interested in getting into this band! As for where to start, you have a couple of choices. Myself, I’d say start in the early years (say, Up To Here) and work your way up to more recent. The band grew and became and matured into what they are on this new release because of all of that older stuff. The discography is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tragically_Hip_discography

      Your other option would be to just pick and choose an album here or there based on popularity. Something like Fully Completely was their huge one, a good gateway into them.

      I hope they speak to you, and that you become a Hip fan! Truly, an excellent band.

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. keepsmealive says:

          Oh for sure, no problem at all. I’m always happy to talk Hip! Was thinking, for the early years, if you go Up To Here through to Fully Completely, those three records are probably what most people would consider the “classic period.” I extend that through the AMAZING Day For Night record, and even to Trouble in The Henhouse and Phantom Power. Again, you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

          Just as a side note, I was in Wal-Mart the other day (I know, I know) and saw 6 different records of theirs in the sale bin, all of them $5 each. Brand new. It’s really easy to get their stuff.

          I truly hope you enjoy!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. stephen1001 says:

    A fine review Aaron, well done sir. I really like your tone
    I’m a few listens (so I’ve still got hundreds more to go before I can compare how it stacks up with the others!) and I like what I’m hearing so far

    Like

    1. keepsmealive says:

      Hey, thanks Geoff! I was really just trying to hear the record, not let Gord’s news turn it into something it might not be. Of course, all fears were unfounded, this record is really, really, really good.

      Are you gonna write it up too?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stephen1001 says:

        Eventually yes!
        I’m really enjoying tracks 2,7,9 so far – they all work well of course, there’s something about those three in particular that are really resonating

        Like

        1. keepsmealive says:

          Hooray! Looking forward to your thoughts on the record!

          You’re waaaay ahead of me, Geoff. I’m not at the point of saying one track is better than others, etc – for me it’s still all one big wave of awesome. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. J. says:

    Another great write-up of this one. Knowing what the band means to you (and some of the others here), I’m real happy that this new one delivers the goods. And in spades, too.

    Like

    1. keepsmealive says:

      Thanks, J.! It truly is a great record. The Hip have been a such a huge part of our lives for so long, it’s like they’ve always been here. And in a way, they have. That they might be ending… it sucks. Hope springs eternal that Gordie staves off the cancer and maintains quality of life as long as possible. That dynamic made my first spin through this amazing album a real tough one, at points. Knowing it might be a last studio record… gah.

      Have you guys gotten into them, over there? I’d recommend this one, but not necessarily as a first one to hear, if you haven’t. I’d say go back and work forward. Grow with them. Then a record like this makes a ton more sense.

      Anyway yeah, it sure does deliver. What a record!

      Like

      1. J. says:

        I know that feeling, fella. Hopefully there’s more to come.

        Not a band I’d really ever heard of until I joined this community. I did listen to Road Apples just the other day and I liked most of that. Could hear similarities with the likes of Wallflowers and a wee bit of R.E.M. in there. Maybe some Tom Petty, too.

        I dare say I’ll check this one out at some point.

        Like

        1. keepsmealive says:

          Whatever gets released going forward, we know it’ll be done with class and respect. The Hip have always been gentlemen.

          Yup, lots of all of those bands in there, and that inimitable thing they do that makes them unique too! Such a great band. Road Apples is a classic. Play it loud, play it often! You’d like the one previous (Up To Here) and after it (Fully Completely) too. Most consider that the Classic Period for the band. Me, I love them all. Every single one! 🙂

          Like

            1. keepsmealive says:

              Up To Here came just before Road Apples, and only The Tragically Hip (their first) was before that. You’d do well to go Up To Here before going after Road Apples to Fully Completely, but I suppose you can choose any order you like, really, as they’re all good. Me, I’d go right from the start and work the way up. But if you play Up To Here, Road Apples and Fully Completely all together, you’ll get a great picture of the period for the band. And then you set yourself up for the mastery that is Day For Night…

              Let me know how it goes!

              Like

      1. boppinsblog says:

        I bought mine at HMV. I thought if you when dealing with the sales guy. He had what I ordered, looked me in the eye, and we talked music. It was refreshing. I know you also have had issues with these clerks.

        Like

      2. boppinsblog says:

        I have had those drives before. RSD. New album releases, and when the store calls you that an akbum you have waited on forever comes in.

        Laser focused. Get there, pay, get home. Mr. Roboto would be proud. Domo.

        Like

          1. boppinsblog says:

            I found a record on the shelf last week that I had waited to e released on vinyl. I had my name on the list but no call.
            I guess a year is a long time to wait and lists get thrown out or lost though.

            Like

        1. boppinsblog says:

          RHCP. I figured you would be a first day buyer.
          I didn’t mention in your emails, but I do also really enjoy them. I was surprised at how few of us fans there are though.

          Like

          1. keepsmealive says:

            Oh yes, but the Hip came first. I will get the Chilis though. And all the others that came out yesterday. 🙂

            Yeah I was a bit surprised by the reaction too. Most people prefer their earlier stuff, it seems. I’m unashamedly happy with the newer stuff too. Good to have a brother in Chilis! 😉

            Like

  3. boppinsblog says:

    Best Hip record since the 90’s IMO.

    A real good one. Nice review. I like how you gave it a bunch of listens and really focused on each song. I agree that comparing some songs to previous albums is a complement. The songs sound similar, but also fit in perfectly in 2016

    Like

    1. keepsmealive says:

      I dunno about best album since the 90s – I’ve loved them all! It’s definitely a beautiful, logical successor to Now For Plan A. But it really does stand up in the discography already, so I imagine that with time it’ll only get better! Thanks for rwading! I’ll be linking to your review shortly.

      Like

  4. deKE says:

    Wickedly good review and a track by track breakdown of each song! Whoah! More value bang for the buck around these parts!
    I like how when you summed up things with a if Gord was fine scenario! That’s the key to this review….
    Look forward to delving into this album today!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. keepsmealive says:

      Thanks Deke! I really, really loved this one as a Hip record, regardless of everything else going on. They have so much promise and they always, always live up to it!

      Good luck listening today. I think you’re gonna dig it.

      Like

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