The title Man Machine Poem reveals something about the new Tragically Hip. The first song is entitled “Man”, and the last one “Machine”. This album is an epic poem — the “Man Machine” poem. It has a flow like a singular body of work, even though it is made up of individual songs. Like most Hip albums of late, it is a brooding work thick with power in its quiet grooves.
Sounding a bit like like classic Radiohead, “Man” opens the CD on a suitably weird note. Droning piano, strange echoey vocals…and I’m hypnotised immediately. Granted, the subconscious mind keeps trying to find meaning in the music. Now we all know the terrible news. That in mind, we’re not going to treat this album like a funeral. Brain cancer be damned, Gord Downie is doing that final tour, you know the one? The one that nobody has been able to buy tickets for except on StubHub for many times their original value. In other words, it’s a heavy atmosphere and you keep searching for hints and clues that are not there. “Man” is a brilliant track, showing that the Hip were continuing to push their own limits.
Just about every track on Man Machine Poem is brilliant. The first single “In A World Possessed by the Human Mind” sounds like something Bono wishes he had written. The fuse smoulders, but the song blasts open brightly on the chorus. Each song has its own character, but hard to define. “What Blue” is simply lovely, a summery track that is hard to forget. “In Sarnia” sounds more like “in the country”, but friends from back that way say that’s not too far from the mark. Passion turned up to 10, Gord lets it all out. The song is slow and quiet; all but Gord.
The days of “Little Bones” and “New Orleans is Sinking” are long behind now. The Hip don’t write albums like that anymore, but what they do create still has innate power. Listen to the acoustics and the slides blending with the electric guitars and steady beat of Johnny Fay. The Hip run like a well oiled…gotta say it…Man Machine. The older, wiser, and less loud Tragically Hip still rock, cranking it up when necessary. “Here, in the Dark” is a fine example of placing the explosive charges in the exact right spots. So is the growling “Hot Mic.” The energy is palpable. Even on a song called “Tired as Fuck”, there is energy in the air.
Man Machine Poem has an epic feel to it, from the strange start to the drawn out dramatic ending. It’s temping to say something like “best Hip album in years!” but they’ve never stopped making great albums.