From the moment The Tragically Hip became a certified Canadian institution in 1994, the Kingston quintet has been consciously trying to create music that’s gone against their trademark aesthetic—a sound that launched a million field parties. But that pursuit reached its sonic nadir with 2009’s We Are the Same, the band’s most tepid collection of acoustic-laced background music for corporate coffee chains.
With Now for Plan A, The Hip seem to have embraced the idea that it’s okay to sound like The Hip. Full of hard-charging grooves and some of Gord Downie’s most eccentric vocal delivery, this is easily the most consistently exciting record they’ve made since Trouble at the Henhouse. Props to producer Gavin Brown—who claimed the helm from notorious joy-killer Bob Rock—for getting the band to crack off the tunes during a two-week session of live-off-the-floor takes. The uptempo jams (“At Transformation”) and Arcade Fire-esque anthems (“Man Machine Poems”) crackle with gig-worthy electricity, while the more pensive numbers like the title track maintain a slow-burn atmosphere.
That there’s nothing as memorable on here as mid-to-late-period gems like “Poets” and “In View” is almost beside the point—finally, The Hip have given us a new reason to raise a few pints around the back-40 bonfire.
Playlist picks “At Transformation,” “We Want to Be It,” “Take Forever”