Coke Machine Glow

Gordon Downie

Zoe Records, 2001

http://www.gorddownie.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/13/2001

Canada's The Tragically Hip are a band you either love or are left scratching your heads about. Gordon Downie and crew have, for over 10 years, been wowing fans across the border while wondering what they need to do to achieve mammoth success in the States.

Coke Machine Glow, Downie's first solo effort, is somewhat reminiscent of the work he's done with The Tragically Hip... at least in my admittedly limited dealings with his full-time project. At times melodic and beautiful, at times experimental and confusing, this is a disc which, at the very least, cannot be called dull. Awkward, yes; dull, no.

I guess that anyone who is familiar with The Tragically Hip will be ready for Downie's stream-of-consciousness musical approach, grabbing whatever genre seems to fit the mood and working it into a musical stew. And, at times, this works with incredible results. Downie must have gotten hold of some Chris Issak albums before going in to record this disc, as "Trick Rider" sounds akin to the "Wicked Game" crooner with its light country airs. "Elaborate" is similar, though it's much less successful.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Downie also shows he's learned his lessons with the Hip, as songs such as "Vancouver Divorce," "SF Song" and "Chancellor" all are quirky but charming in their own ways - often deviating from the previous song musically in ways the casual listener would not expect. Sure, it's the musical equivalent of being in a prize fight, but Downie makes it kind of interesting to follow... at least for the first half.

Where Coke Machine Glow starts to fall apart first is in the spoken-word pieces. "Starpainters," which opens the album, is okay, but nothing great; had this been the only example, it would have at least been managable. But there are no less than three such pieces on this disc - the last one, "Insomniacs Of The World, Good Night," being incredibly difficult to get through. If it had been a one-minute track, it would have been sufferable; at over five minutes, it's grating.

The other difficulty with Coke Machine Glow is that Downie is not able to maintain the level of musical creativity and interest on the second half of the disc. Tracks like "Mystery," "Yer Possessed" and "Every Irrelevance" just don't have the same snap that the outstanding songs do - and it sometimes feels like Downie is being trapped by his own preconceived notions of his music.

Maybe it's that Coke Machine Glow tries to do too much for a first effort. Maybe it's that Downie is too intertwined as the leader of The Tragically Hip to make a musical statement that would make listeners forget about his "day job". Maybe it's that the second half of this disc just isn't as strong as the first. Coke Machine Glow is an album that tries, and Downie does a halfway decent job of making his own voice heard. If only this had been a strong album - not a strong half-album.

Rating: C+

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zoe Records, and is used for informational purposes only.