Album review: The Tragically Hip, Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 9, 1996

By Steve Newton

With this, its sixth album, the Tragically Hip appears to be taking the moody musical route favoured when it chose “Grace, Too” as the leadoff single from its previous CD, Day for Night. That tune revealed a more subtle, shadowy side to the Kingston quintet, which up to that point was best-known for straightforward, groove-oriented rockers such as “Little Bones” and “Blow at High Dough”.

There were still enough fast-paced stompers on Day for Night to keep the boogie contingent satisfied, but this time around—apart from the kick-ass “Coconut Cream” and gritty “700 Ft. Ceiling”—the musical roughhousing has been toned down, which could alienate devotees of the Hip’s rowdier Up to Here period. But the good news is that no matter how mellow the group gets—whether on the delicate “Flamenco” or the sweetly swaying “Ahead by a Century”—it remains totally effective, thanks to Gordon Downie’s irreverent, stream-of-consciousness vocal style and the tasty guitar work of Bobby Baker and Paul Langlois.

Local fans who caught the band during its Day for Night tour stops at Thunderbird Stadium and the Pacific Coliseum might recognize then–works in progress such as “Giftshop” and “Springtime in Vienna”, both of which have developed into dynamic numbers that start peaceably and then build up power until they evolve into the stormy, intense raveups you expect from Canada’s best guitar-rock band.

Downie displays a strong Lou Reed influence on the snakey “Butts Wigglin”, the lyrics of which, as usual, leave you wondering what he’s on about. Trouble in the Henhouse includes lines about Christians in a circle jerk, a cannon shooting coconut cream, and Kurt Cobain reincarnated as a sled dog, yet all the freakiness sits well with the boldly creative underbelly the group has been exposing more of with each passing year. Since this is the first Tragically Hip CD to get a simultaneous release in the U.S.—on the heavyweight Atlantic label—it should be interesting to finally see how Americans respond to the band’s heady mix of peculiar lyrics and killer riffs.

In my opinion, the Hip is ready for worldwide success.

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