The Tragically Hip
he anatomy of a “greatest hits” album or retrospective “box set” has really taken a nose dive of sorts in the stream of modern musical conscience. Top-heavy, soulless collections litter the shelves of countless music departments and supermarkets, on which you can find the solid gold, #1, definitive, absolutely essential anthologies of those that might be dubbed “20th Century Masters” or “era-defining” musicians. Truthfully, most of these so-called “hits” albums are for bands that had more than two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in the past 40 years. It won’t be long before we can buy an album of all our favorite classic hits by those modern masters of teenage angst, Simple Plan.
For this format to work as a feasible musical offering, I am a firm believer that said collection or box set should play as if it were a fantasy set list for the greatest concert that the band or person would ever perform. It would include everything that an informed fan of said band/individual could ever hope to hear them play. It’s the sort of personal musical fantasy game that would not be out of place in Rob High Fidelty Gordon’s own head.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
It is almost impossible to fathom that this was not what the Tragically Hip had in mind when creating Hipeponymous (like hippopotamus). Thirty-five of the songs included on the album portion of the set (not including two new, non-memorable-but-ironically-titled offerings “No Threat” and “New Maybe”), were chosen by thousands of their adoring fans. While sounding like a sales ploy, we discover that fans of the Hip are a bright bunch. Not only are classic stalwarts like “Blow At High Dough,” “Ahead By A Century,” and “Little Bones” to be found, but a good many examples of their excellent lower-profile work such as “Escape Is At Hand For The Traveling Man,” “Fireworks,” and “Scared.” Just as so many fans have faith in the Hip, the Hip display impeccable and deserved faith in their audience.
These tracks are then not slapped together according to release date, nor did they opt for one disc of singles and another of the remainder. They took our choices and created the greatest damn set list that could possibly be made. This might possibly be a more difficult concept to grasp without having seen the poetic and sonic chaos and beauty that these fellows can induce onstage, where the soul of each song bleeds into the atmosphere of the next until they cease to become individual tracks and develop into a series of matchless occurrences on an incandescent stream of sonic glee.
So the boys have kindly included That Night In Toronto so that we can all see for ourselves. This DVD recounts an evening in the aforementioned city during a recent tour. At first glance, the concert footage appears almost benign and incredibly complacent when compared to most live DVDs that are offered up. But the production values and lack of flashy, gimmicky editing and camerawork in the film parallel the solid foundation of the band itself: no over-glorified egos, no hype machine to cloud the thoughts, no smoke and mirrors in the presentation—just five men who are honest about their art.
And in the end, that is what drives everything in Hipeponymous from the liner booklet of snapshots and poetry of lead singer Gord Downie to the last disc’s music videos: artistic honesty. Their sound is not one that is groundbreakingly original or will change and influence the music world in any drastic way, nor did it ever intend to be. The charm comes in the creations that this quintet of friends from Kingston, Ontario, have produced through hard work and “digging it out of the dirt.” Modern music could learn from this sort of integrity. But rather than force the issue into the open, I think I’ll just enjoy it for myself. It’ll help me sleep a little easier.
Reviewed by: Matt Sheardown
Reviewed on: 2005-12-15