Coming Clean at the Bathhouse

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Recorded in 2008’s year of continental excess and governmental Spending Gone Wild, The Tragically Hip’s latest album, We Are the Same, brings its listeners something beyond the unexpected: actual hope. Gord Downie’s lyrics—backed by a band ripe with confidence and skill—tackle what we might assume had passed far under the bridge. Should a first listen be given to a person recently hatched from a time capsule, or a pod sent from beyond Mars, she might believe that our essential uniting tenet, faith in humanity, still exists. We are, indeed, the Same, and when this is recognized, a bit of that space between us all shrinks.

We Are the Same isn’t only levity and light, though. The band exposes our black eyes and our crushes, the struggle of the worker in places as far flung as New Orleans and Athabaska or as close as a Lake Ontario shore is to the shore of Chicago. A trio of “Depression Suites” examines people trapped in menial jobs. Part of the magic, however, is that The Tragically Hip has never lost its working man’s roots; from their start in the tiny clubs of Kingston and Toronto and Halifax and Vancouver to the world stage, Gordon, Paul, Rob, Gord, and Johnny continue to sweat hard, and the triumphant and often chilling trilogy is an ode to those who keep the rest of us content.

Several of the tracks address a desire for escape, possible or not, and most take a look at our sense of self worth, both as individuals and as a larger community. We’re asked, point blank: Don’t our First Peoples deserve reconciliation? The Hip is neither apologetic nor afraid to question the state of our natural environment, and our internal environments don’t escape unexamined either. The inability to undo time and the idea of reflection also appear again and again: how we reflect one another, how the moon bounces back the light of the sun onto our communal view and our communal problems, how mirrors give us more than just ourselves.

There’s melancholy and anger here, driving guitar, and absolutely unforgettable melody. The Hip, with songs like “Morning Moon” and “The Last Recluse,” could even have somebody like Stephen Harper humming along in the back of the limo. The powerhouse legend Bob Rock, once more on the dials, tunes the words and music of one of our country’s great enigmas and talents into something completely new and yet immediately recognizable. This band, a dozen albums and 26 years in the making, shows us once again not only why they are but who they are, snowshoeing through new land while sowing seeds for all of us secret musicians and poets and citizens hungry for a chance. And a change.

They’re comfortable in their own skin, but the men of The Tragically Hip are still hungry to explore. With the same heart of the boys who penned and played “38 Years Old,” the band shows us 20 years later that wisdom indeed comes with age, and that Heart doesn’t change. Finally, the album’s cumulative effect is one of genuine comfort—or maybe much needed consolation. This iconic band, at the peak of its powers, rests a warm hand on its listeners’ shoulders. Downie speaks to each of us, individually, and the effect is uncanny. This song is for me. This song speaks to what I’m going through. I’m actually not alone.

Under the pillow
I can hear you whisperin’ are you going through something?

Well honey are you going through something?
Are you going through something?
Then I – I – I – I I am too
Then I – I – I – I I am too

It’s all in here, grinding stadium anthems and love songs you want to sing to your newborn baby. The Hip isn’t afraid to show a soft side, and we’re all the better for it. This release is a cry for understanding, a whisper and scream to our world, our country, or communities, and our families. From the gorgeous and crafted first track to the bold and elegiac last, The Tragically Hip’s latest gem is something prophetic, nurturing, and essential. Every listen brings further understanding—nothing new for a band with decades of depth—but The Tragically Hip couldn’t have predicted a race’s dream fulfilled, a choking environment’s gasp at fresh air, a world’s reconsideration of a continent, without a full measure of faith and hope. It’s for these reasons this album is bread, water, love.

—Joseph and Amanda Boyden, New Orleans, 2009

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