If the democratic franchise in Canada were restricted to citizens 18 to 30, The Tragically Hips Gordon Downie could have been Prime Minister, had the job held any allure. Such is the esteem that has been showered upon the group since their rise to the relatively lofty status of Huge In Canada.
The release of Coke Machine Glow and an accompanying volume of poetry come without the clamor that typically greets Hip releases in Canada. Its being issued through Downies Weiner Art imprint (and via Rounder in the U.S.). No videos. Not much press. No tour. Even the packaging is desktop-austere. None of which obscures the impression that this is a fascinating, gorgeously-rendered singer-songwriter album.
Recorded live to 8-track recorder with a coterie of Toronto players, Coke Machine Glow has a casualness thats a departure from the hell-bent Hip style, which is certainly the point. The focus, then, returns to the songs and Downies expressive voice.
What emerges is a well-rounded and honest portrait of the artist, from the working musicians travelscapes (SF Hotel, Starpainters) to an urbanites rural daydreams (Blackflies, Lofty Pines) to apocalyptic weirdness (Nothing But Heartache In Your Social Life).
Trick Rider, a moving assessment of limits to a parents limitless love, precedes a Velvets-like rocker called Canada Geese that equates men meeting for a dope deal to geese collecting in a field. Elaborate sets a cell phone call overheard on a streetcar to a wrenching country waltz. Yer Possessed marries a lovers quarrel to a kitchen hoedown that would do The Band proud. Chancellor teams the records most indelible melody with lyrics about bedtime vampires and roads not taken. In short, Downies career pause is definitely refreshing.