Welcome to the 19th installment of my reviews for the discography of The Tragically Hip! These are tandem reviews with my amazing wife, Sarah who is posting her own over at Caught Me Gaming. So be sure to check out her write up for Man Machine Poem right here!
As for me, of course I listened to Man Machine Poem when it came out. It was released in June of 2016, 6 months after the announcement that Gord Downie was diagnosed with brain cancer.
I’m not afraid to admit how susceptible I am to becoming more interested in an artist’s music whenever they pass away or are diagnosed with a terminal disease. I don’t think of it as jumping on a band wagon so I can morbidly join in on the sympathy train. I’m sure there are people who do that. Maybe part of me is doing the same but it doesn’t feel that way to me.
Knowing the sound they created is more finite than usual influences me to become better aware of their music. The Hip was a band that I thought would be around forever. I took them for granted. I’ll get around to taking Sarah to see them perform one day. I’m just waiting for that perfect storm. When they’re playing at the right venue for the right price. And tickets are accessible. None of that happened.
Sarah and I gave Man Machine Poem listen when she bought it on or close to release day. Like most Hip albums, I didn’t think it was great on that first spin. The exception being the album’s second tune, In a World Possessed by the Human Mind. It brought me right back to that Phantom Power sound as it felt like an extension of my all time favourite Hip song, Escape Is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man. That hit me right away.
As the album got more spins around here, the rest grew on me. What Blue comes close, but there are no real pop tunes on the album as it is driven by a weighty mood. There can be frustration like on In Sarnia or anger like on Hot Mic but I found most of the album to be wistful.
Tunes like Here, In The Dark, Great Soul, and Machine have a slight upbeat tick in the rhythm with Gord’s vocal melodies and lyrics having a hint of sadness. The rest of the band feeds off of this vibe as the songs are not blistering with poppy guitar and drum fills. The songs are performed straight with the instruments ramping up whenever the lyrics do.
Man Machine Poem was written and recorded prior to Gord receiving his diagnosis, but I believe his disease is on its surface. Gord could have been Tired As Fuck from brain cancer before being diagnosed. Personally, I think sometimes people just know before they know. I think the Hip knew before they knew.
With all of that said, the album is not a tough listen. It is a reflective and it is heartfelt. It is heavy on the pensive and light on the melancholy. More earnest than bleak. Knowing Gord, that is what he was aiming for. He nailed it.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday (Maybe) with a review of their Blu-ray Long Time Running!
Get more Hip in ya:
[EP Review] The Tragically Hip – Self Titled EP
[Album Review] Up To Here
[Album Review] Road Apples
[Album Review] Fully Completely
[Album Review] Day For Night
[Album Review] Trouble At The Henhouse
[Album Review] Live Between Us
[Album Review] Phantom Power
[Album Review] Music @ Work
[Album Review] In Violet Light
[Album Review] In Between Us
[DVD Review] That Night In Toronto
[Album Review] Yer Favourites
[Album Review] World Container
[Album Review] We Are the Same
[Album Review] Now for Plan A
[Blu-Ray Review] Bobcaygeon
[Album Review] Fully Completely Deluxe Edition
[Album Review] Man Machine Poem
[Blu-Ray Review] Long Time Running
[Blu-Ray Review] A National Celebration
[EP Review] Saskadelphia
[Book Review] The Never Ending Present | The Story Of Gord Downie And The Tragically Hip