For this album review I chose to use the cassette version. I am a big proponent of cassettes. I own thousands of them, and this is the best sounding pre-recorded cassette I have ever heard. It is a clear MCA made in the early/mid 1990’s. It has high highs and low lows. It gives a better sound than many cd’s, and some vinyl. The gentle tick of a cymbal and lightly plucked strings all jump to life with brilliant character. I use this cassette as my tester of all decks. I knew this was the right format to listen to this awesome album. If you own this cassette and it just sounds ok, you should be in the market for a new deck, or a thorough cleaning and servicing. (If anyone is interested, I will soon be doing some cassette service posts)
Grace, Too – Johnny Fay gently pounds on the cymbals and skins for a few seconds then Gord Sinclair’s bass exudes possibly the best sound I have ever heard him lay down. So memorable. So smooth. Like aloe vera on hot skin. The producer and engineer leave the acoustic guitar string plucking sounds in the mix, just the way I like them. Then Gord begins to sing, Paul Langlois backs him up and Rob Bakers electric guitar awesomeness round this song out. Musically this may be the best song in the Hip’s repertoire. They are definitely in top form here.
Daredevil – The beginning of this song sounds like a bad spot in the cassette. I confirmed with the cd that is the way it is supposed to sound. One thing is for certain the guitar work is not flawed in any way. The psychedelic solo near the end is especially amazing. The drums have a very deep, booming sounds and mixed with the bass this has a deep, groovy bottom end. This form continues on throughout most of this record.
Greasy Jungle – Metropolis Noire. A song about the city of Ottawa at night while visiting the city for a funeral. The lyrics seem to be a throwback to early or even pre film noir. The drums have a bit of a bongo feel to them at times, but Rob Baker reminds us he is still in the studio though with his constant professionalism.
Yawning Or Snarling – A nice mix of slower and faster tones. What really stands out for me is the bass playing. It starts and stops in a way I have not heard before. It also sounds at times like Gord Sinclair is playing the bass as if it were a lead guitar. It’s really neat. Also, Rob Baker has a subtleness to his playing on this song that sound better than wailing.
Fire In The Hole – Sort of generic style drumming bring this song down a notch. The guitar work almost makes up for it, but this song is not up to the songs on this side of the album.
So Hard Done By – The awesome drums are back. Thank you. They again have a slight bongo beat to them. The guitar work is amazing. Gord does an amazing job on the vocals and the lyrics are incredible. I would ask that you read the lyrics to this song. Often I post little tidbits of song lyrics to show you how cool they are. I would basically have to type out the entire song. It is one big tidbit of awesome lyrics.
Nautical Disaster – Another Tragically Hip history lesson in sort of a dream sequence. This time about the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck during World War II. The atrocities of war include leaving sailors to drown. Choosing which ones lived and which died in a split second because the lifeboats could only hold ten, ten only. The dream ends when the storytellers girlfriend calls him and he relates her voice as fingernails scratching at his boats hull. I can only assume their relationship is as doomed as the Bismarck. Amazing storytelling, and wonderful musicianship end this side of the album. (Just to clarify, this song was not written by Gordon Lightfoot, nor was it made into a movie starring Peter O ‘ Toole as the Lighthouse Keeper, and Jodie Foster as Susan)
Thugs – I flip the cassette over and get rewarded with amazing bass, drums and guitar. The lyrics are on the next level though. “Everyone’s got their breaking point. With me it’s spiders. With you it’s me.” Quite a line. I guess, as most men tend to do, he has crossed the line one too many times. “I do the rolling, you do the details.” I believe this is about that wacky tabacky them young thugs that won’t stay off my lawn are into these days. Another song that even though I included some of the lyrics, it is worth a read. They are all really cool, and so is the song.
Inevitability Of Death – Again with the generic drumming bringing this song down. I think with the rest of the amazing drum work on this album, the few songs that that have normal drums sound worse here. The lyrics sang at normal speed for most of the song, then sang very fast during the chorus is a neat touch though. Also the start/stop of the lyrics and drums on the last section of the song is cool too. As well, the guitar solo at the end is really nice. Some nice touches almost make up for the early drum work.
Scared – This may be my favourite slow song in the entire Hip catalogue. The raw, acoustic guitar as just amazing. The bass flows into the song seamlessly and don’t overpower Gord or the wonderful guitar. The muted drums suit this song very well. The lyrics go off in different directions. Dead shark on the beach. Nazis attempting to steal art during WWII. I think it is mostly about a womanizer meeting a woman who finally stands up to him, and is clearly his match. He is scared of her power and decides to leave. Like many other Hip songs the lyrics can be interpreted in numerous ways.
Inch an Hour – Pounding drums and booming bass start this song off. Gord belts out the lyrics to this one at a powerful pace. The vocals seem to be the focal point of this song. Gord sings it in a sort of angry punk rocker kind of way. The section of the lyric I most enjoy is the line “no bemused Trudeau”. Even though Gord was referring to Pierre, it is almost as if he knew bemused Justin was eventually going to rule our country.
Emergency – Great bass mixes with rainfall. Then the drums kick in, and off we go. For me the best part of the song is the wah pedal effects on Rob Bakers guitar. Even the guitar work without the effects is amazing. Also, Paul Langlois adds in some great background vocals.
Titanic Terrarium – Has kind of an old town western feel to it, and the guitar work is in the same vein as The Allman Brothers – Midnight Rider. The lyrics are the usual Hip lyrics that make you think. Possibly about technology and how men think they can overpower Mother Nature.
Impossibilium – Great guitar work, booming bass and crashing cymbals start this song off. It is a good song, but not great. Not the best song to end the album in my opinion. It just kind of ends too abruptly for me.