Thursday, April 21, 2011

P&J 2010 (One and Done): Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles, "The Grand Bounce"

30 points, t-365, voted on by Mike Mettler

The Tragically Hip are huge stars in Canada and have been playing arenas and headlining huge outdoor festivals for twenty years. During the 90's, they tried in vain to break through in the US market but despite constant touring and some high profile performances (e.g. SNL, the '94 Woodstock), it never happened. It's odd that they never enjoyed even Barenaked Ladies-sized success in the US (to name one band that toured their asses off to overcome the stigma of being a Canadian band trying to make it in the US) because they appeal to the same kinds of music fans that have made Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler into huge successes that can sustain healthy careers as touring bands until the earth falls into the sun.

So, it's not too difficult to understand why this album received only one vote on P&J -- almost nobody outside of Canada has ever heard of Tragically Hip or Gord Downie, and besides that, Tragically Hip were never all that popular with Canadian music critics. But judging from this interview with Sound and Vision Editor-In-Chief Mike Mettler, it's hardly a surprise to find out that he was the one guy to stan for "The Grand Bounce" in 2010.

I pressed play and recognized "The East Wind" immediately. I didn't understand how that could be possible, but once the chorus hit I remembered that I'd heard it on the radio while driving in Canada this past summer. It's a song that hits directly at my weakest spot -- the mid-tempo rocker led by a repetitively strummed acoustic guitar always turns me into goo on first listen (two good examples of this are James' "Laid" and Tom Petty's "Learning To Fly"). And yet somehow I forgot about this amazing song completely until I heard "The Grand Bounce", and that's why it's important to play silly little games like listening to all the albums on P&J that got only one number one vote from one critic and finished higher than your own number one album that got one vote.

I suppose one reason why Tragically Hip never became big outside of Canada is because they're a proudly Canadian band who sometimes sing about Canadian things. This hasn't been a handicap for any number of distinctly Irish and English bands who had international success, but Canadian culture has never exported itself well. Despite not being a household name, Downie could have invited any number of prominent guests to play and sing on his solo albums. Instead, he's stuck with the same backing band throughout his solo career -- Julie Doiron (from Eric's Trip), Josh Finlayson (from the Skydiggers, whose name wasn't familiar to me at all, even though I remember his band's music quite fondly) and The Dinner Is Ruined (who opened once for Tindersticks in Toronto many years ago and were awful, that was my first exposure to them and I haven't been able to stand them since). He splurged a bit on this, his third solo album, and handed the producing duties over to Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) and the radio-friendly results are probably a big reason why the record went top ten in Canada, whereas Downie's other albums were considered more like esoteric indulgences that he needed to get out of his system between Tragically Hip tours.

Downie's been a consistently great songwriter throughout his career, and even when your reaction was a fairly muted "oh, it's the Nth Tragically Hip album", you still had to admit that the music was more than listenable because he's good even when he's just OK. But when he's good, he's really good, and "The Grand Bounce" can sit proudly next to the best Tragically Hip material. Highlights include the aforementioned "The East Wind", the wistful and introspective "The Hard Canadian", and "Retrace", arguably Downie's most REM-soundalike moment ever (which is saying something).

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

I love this... Gord Downie is amazing :)