AOM Logo September 1998

The Tragically Hip: Phantom Power

Universal Music Canada / Sire Records

Playing Time: 50:33

Christopher Tocher

Record Cover

Like a finely honed musical engine, the Hip train comes rolling down the track at full steam - again. In Phantom Power, the band with the coolest name in popular music has released an album with enough razor sharp vocals and earthy melodies to satisfy all but the most discerning lovers of good rock. In fact, Downie and Co. have energized the music so much that this new album will be requisite fodder in making every field and frat party a flannel success!

Newcomers, and The Hip's loyal following, will recognize the quality and consistency of the twelve tunes. Each bounces off the other in playful harmony but retains down-to-earth (Canadian, if you will) practicality. Lead singer, Gord Downie, delights with his usual arcane interpretations and throaty vibrato accompanying flat but gritty morsels of melody and rhythm.

Musically, I had always questioned from whence The Tragically Hip came. Phantom Power answers that question. The overall tone of the disc highlights a form of junior angst - exemplified by Save the Planet and Vapour Trails. This angst is accompanied by post teen reflection and regret - heard to great effect in Bobcaygeon and Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin' Man. It seems that less hair and a slightly larger belt line have seasoned these songsters, changing their perspective (for the better) as only experience can.

The Tragically Hip in Concert

Freelance producer, Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos fame), has added a touch of refinement to an already musically-polished product. Berlin adds keyboard and flute (of all instruments!) to a few tracks which elevate the music, giving it a multi-dimensional effect. This is no easy feat given that the Hip are in their element in a live setting. The sound is stripped down and vocals are not saturated, which in turn adds to both the mood and colour of each track. Trying to emulate their raw live power must have been similar to bottling a shooting star. But capture it Berlin does, and he provides an invigorating experience.

I hope that newcomers to The Hip's style recognize Phantom Power as honest rock and roll. The band from Kingston, Ontario, has done what is becoming a rare occurrence in these heady days, where money and the "bottom line" always triumph over substance: they have remained true to their style and focus. And in Phantom Power, their unique style continues, one which will appeal to an eclectic crowd ranging from the hot dog vendor to the actuary.

[On the WWW, surfers can fulfill their hippest requirements by directing their browser to Assoc. Ed]

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