The Tragically Hip - Now For Plan A
Canada's best kept secret, The Tragically Hip, have not had an easy time of it in recent years. Their previous album, We Are The Same, predictably divided fans. The title is an ironic affirmation to fans that in spite of enhanced production and a 'bigger sound', thanks to Bob Rock, The Hip are, and always will be, the same band. As for the album: it remains an example of how to bring in new ideas and still retain your soul, and The Depression Suite, the nine and a half minute opus, remains the highlight - and one of their best songs of recent times. But the band has much to prove after two disappointing albums: In Between Evolution and World Container followed In Violet Light, their most accomplished album since Trouble In The Henhouse in 1996. So now, ten years later, the band's thirteenth (studio) album is Now For Plan A.
If the big problem with The Tragically Hip in the last decade has been consistency of albums, it is now with their songs. Now For Plan A suffers from many things but the biggest frustration is it's home to some of the best songs the band has written - and some of the worst. The aggressive opener At Transformation is a great noisy, determined, start and We Want To Be It, with its persistent 'drip drip drip' is truly wonderful and mesmerising. Gorgeous guitars form the introduction to the anti-love song and singer Gordon Downie's most committed performance - and a simple premise is used to form something much more complex. Surprisingly, Streets Ahead is the nearest The Hip get to a perfect three-minute pop song; in part the younger cousin of Lionized - held together with a vibrant, upbeat and furiously delivered chorus. Continuing the good run of form, the title track, featuring Sarah Harmer on vocals to provide the 'other side of the story', is simply brilliant - this is controlled, focused and above all, tuneful. The only other song achieving the usual Hip greatness is the beautiful Done And Done, a rose between to horrible thorns.
The rest of Now For Plan A is a messy collection of ideas and misjudged arrangements. Only The Lookahead and The Modern Spirit capture any of The Hip at their best but they, and remainder, suffer the same fate. The sharp song writing, witty observations and Downie's reliable, tuneful, and creative vocals, desert the band. Man Machine Poem, Take Forever and closer Goodnight Attawapiskat are poor and About This Map is a great idea ruined by more bad execution - and a flat, dull, uninspired chorus. Now For Plan A is hopefully titled ironically as the album is far from the glory days of The Tragically Hip at their majestic, wonderful, best.