Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all
- Emily Dickinson, "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"
If ever there was a band to sum up the Canadian character, it would be Kingston’s The Tragically Hip. From the sun-yellowed prairies of Saskatchewan to the heavin’ metropolis of Toronto, from the rain-soaked lanes of Vancouver to the warmth of Nova Scotia, The Hip have criss-crossed Canada with their tales of love, struggle, passion, glory, and hockey.
The quintet has poetically told the stories of thousands, keenly engaging in the beautiful accounts of the fisherman, the longshoreman, the waitress, the businesswoman, the lawmaker, the hockey player, the truck driver, the farmer.
And now, with the world to all appearances crumbling ‘round us, frontman Gordon Downie and the band return to draw us near, hold us close, and open our eyes.
The Hip have dispatched Bob Rock again to serve as producer. His work on 2006’s World Container helped shake something loose and it’s exciting to see the band continue on the same path with their eleventh, the aptly-titled We Are the Same.
Unity is the essential theme. The lyrics ring with devotion, humanity, assurance, and joy. The music, smart in its alt-country tang, surges forward with confidence and dexterity.
Downie, who once sang “For a good life, we just might have to weaken,” fearlessly asserts positive ground and compels his listeners, his host, to scuffle with their own reflections. Examination of the inner architecture of our very souls provides direction and grants us strength to carry on.
In this hurtlin’ gap, We Are the Same.
“Morning Moon” opens things up with a wonderful, crisp alt-country gait. The tune feels like it would be at home under paper lanterns at an Alberta barn party, delicately lighting the occupants as they pull together. Guitar accents the piece with affectionate twang.
With “Coffee Girl,” The Hip crack out a tune that is sure to be a fan favourite. Bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay shape a taut groove and Downie serenades his “beautiful and disaffected” protagonist. A trumpet feels right at home, adding cosy tone.
The shimmering, broad “Now the Struggle Has a Name” swells with strings and Downie’s wavering vocals. It serves as the perfect lead-in to “The Depression Suite,” a multifarious work that is The Hip’s longest tune to date. It flows and eases into its pulse, coming together with Downie’s consoling phrases and wobbly enunciations. “Are you going through something?” he asks. “I am too.”
Comfort is really the name of the game, as The Tragically Hip have composed a record to serve as the proverbial hug or pat-on-the-back for a bushed, broken, bothered public. The songs elevate, every note feelin’ like the right note. With a sort of working class energy, The Hip toil hard for every melody they make.
“Love is a First” is the roasting, guitar-driven rocker of the album, made whole with Downie’s mid-song rant.
We Are the Same is a record with a theme, maybe even a theory. Fuck it, this is a record with a mission. Spurred by stunning melodies, Downie’s elegiac lyrics, and a solid wallop of optimism, We Are the Same finds The Hip doling out a little bout of what many of us could use right now: hope.