Sire Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/03/1998
How can a studio recording sound like a casual jam session effort? Ask Gordon Downie and The Tragically Hip.
This Canadian group enjoys superstar status in their home land, but America has remained a tough nut for them to crack. I've occasionally dabbled in their music (and had the opportunity to interview Downie live on the radio way back in 1989), but I've never quite grasped the whole "go-with-the-flow" manner of The Tragically Hip.
Their latest release Phantom Power doesn't help me that much in this regard, though the band does create some entertaining music that should please their fans and critics alike.
Recorded at a time when Canada was going through a severe ice storm (possibly the inspiration for the title of the album), Downie and crew plow through twelve songs that almost sound effortless on the part of the band. To the listener, it almost sounds like the band could play this material in their sleep - and, in a sense, this air of casualness hurts the overall effort. With such a loose feel, it's sometimes hard to concentrate on the finer details of the album and its songs.
What is striking about the band is that they can create a solid groove on both rockers ("Poets," the groove created thanks to drummer Johnny Fay) or on an acoustic number ("Thompson Girl" - though this is proof that Downie shoudn't try to hit ranges that aren't comfortable to his voice).
The Tragically Hip prove they can work some magic musically on songs like "Membership," where the vocal work of Downie, guitarist Paul Langlois and bassist/organist Gordon Sinclair add tezture to Fay's trap work and the six-string stylings of Robby Baker. However, other efforts to capture such magic (like on "Fireworks") just doesn't catch fire.
Phantom Power overall is a solid album, but the question remains: Will this be the album that will break the band in the United States? My thought: Possibly, though I thought some of the work off 1994's Day For Night would have done the trick by now. If some programmer takes a shine to such cuts as "Poets," "Save The Planet," "Bobcaygeon" and "Membership," The Tragically Hip might just become a name to deal with in the American world of alternative rock.
Phantom Power is an album that should please The Tragically Hip's fans, though the question of whether this album has the energy to charge up America is still up in the air.