The Tragically Hip/Road Apples Deluxe/Universal
3.5 out of Five Stars
Few bands better illustrate the musical divide that occasionally occurs between the U.S. and its northern neighbor than the Tragically Hip. A hard-rocking outfit that’s plied its trade since 1984, they’ve made fans across the length and breadth of their native Canada. Yet despite reaping superior sales, all manner of impressive awards, and outsized acclaim overall, they’ve made only a passing impression in terms of general awareness in the States. That’s a shame; like other outfits that often typify the musical mindset of those occupying the Great White North—the Guess Who, Triumph, and Rush come readily to mind—they’re a generally unpretentious bunch, merely intent on emphasizing a drive and delivery that propels their propulsive intents from first note to last.
The death of lead singer and guitarist Gord Downie in 2017 effectively brought the band to an abrupt halt, and yet their enshrinement in Canada’s Walk of Fame and Music Hall of Fame, not to mention their 17 Juno Awards, a National Achievement Award, and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award continue to ensure their enduring affection. It also justifies the release of a sumptuous four-CD/blu-ray box set that expands on one of their most revered albums, Road Apples. Those unaware of the Hip’s ongoing trajectory might consider this an onslaught of sorts, one that might seem overwhelming in terms of sheer magnitude. In addition to the original album, augmented by five bonus tracks on the Blu-ray version, it includes a separate disc of demos, outtakes, and alternate versions, a live concert recorded at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and a mini-collection of leftovers and other live recordings. It’s a lot to absorb, especially for the novice, but the focus remains intact throughout, rarely faltering in its energy or exuberance.
That said, there are times when the band’s heavy-handed stance provides something of an anthemic perspective. “Montreal,” from the disc titled Saskadelphia, finds them veering into U2 and R.E.M. territory, perching themselves on a higher plateau. So too, “Just As Well” reverts to basic, unadorned rock and roll. All is not wholly intense, however. “Fiddler’s Green” from the original album offers a mellower respite, while “The Luxury” brings to mind the darker motif of Jim Morrison and the Doors in all their gloom and glory.
In addition to the wealth of music, an oversized poster and a book of notes, reflections and track-by-track explanations offer additional illumination. As a result, those that wish to plunge headfirst into the Hip’s heroics will find plenty of reason for indulging their interest. After all, there’s no reason to consider Road Apples any sort of forbidden fruit.
Photo Credit: Jim Herrington