Maple Leaf Rag

Blame Canada for the Tragically Hip

I like Canada well enough. Beautiful scenery, nice people, socialized medicine.

But there are two things Canada will never, ever be good at producing. One is an edible hamburger—Canadian "beef" is always this gray, grotesque mound of mystery flesh; take a bite, and you half-expect to pull out a still-throbbing artery. The other is a remotely listenable rock band.

Really, now—has there ever been a good Canadian band? As proof, I cite this brief list of assorted Canuck embarrassments: Rush (well, of course!), Triumph, Glass Tiger, Helix, Honeymoon Suite, April Wine, the Guess Who (a couple of good tunes—32 years ago), Nickelback, Sum 41 and a bunch of others I could name if I cared enough about bad Canadians to do a Net search, which I don't.

Most of the Band, who I liked, were Canadian, but they don't really qualify—make your name hanging out with Bob Dylan and milk enough American blues, country and folk for your own tunes, and everyone thinks you're American, too.

The Cowboy Junkies made a great album in 1988—so great that they've been remaking the damn thing over and over ever since, and every year, it has gotten less and less interesting.

Since I'm talking about bands, there's no need to mention the eternal suckiness of solo acts like Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Alanis Morrisette and Bryan Adams—but I will anyway.

If I made a list of the five worst band names of the past 15 years, three of them would be Canadian (oh, but don't think you're getting off so easy there, Korn and Porno for Pyros!): Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies and the Tragically Hip.

Of this unholy troika, "the Hip," as their cult of sonically retarded fans call them, are easily the most cloying, annoying and pretentious—a bad, self-important art-rock act that's forever trying to break big in America but never can, mostly because we've all seen their shtick before by bands better (U2) and worse (Live—and actually, Live would be the sixth-worst band name of the past 15 years).

One of their problems is that the main lyric scribbler, Gordon Downie (they actually have two people in the band named Gordon, which is a whole other reason to hate Canadian bands), fancies himself a poet, which gives leeway to such clunky lines as "Just like after she heard the word 'iridescent'/and everything was iridescent for awhile/It wasn't long before she exalted out of nowhere" and "In the ulcerating silence, perspective comes/the way it always does/for its ransom."

Those slices of ooh-ahh-so-literate-aren't-you-impressed wordplay are on their new album, In Violet Light, on which Downie also name-checks everyone from Randy Newman to Gregory Peck to Bruce Springsteen to Tallulah Bankhead in some sort of vainglorious attempt at being cool.

And those are just in the lyrics themselves—he's so well-read (and wants you to know it, too) that he drops in references to an assortment of poets and writers who gave him ideas for certain passages. Okay, so his song "Use It Up" was inspired by a Raymond Carver quote, and it's a good thing he at least bothered crediting Carver, but still, it's hard to rock out when the band is more interested in force-feeding you what's on their nightstand reading list.

Downie did once write a nifty number called "Locked In the Trunk of a Car," penned from the POV of a serial killer. But that was 10 years ago, and everything he's done since has reeked of pompous elitism, the kind of insufferable, pseudo-artsy horse puckey that '70s prog rock bands such as Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer used to dish out. People lapped up that puddle of barfola, too, because by liking that music, it made them feel smarter than they actually were—even though all they were was stoned.

And yet the Tragically Hip are huge back home, sad evidence that people in other countries, too—not just here—are willing to settle for such mediocre, big-headed, overproduced wank rock. That they keep touring down here and infecting more Americans with their painful aural disease is proof enough that it's not the U.S.-Mexico border we should be building long fences across.

The Tragically Hip play at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Tues., 8 p.m. $22.50-$25. All ages.
 
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