Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

Universal Music Canada 025476J442
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

In the fall of 1991, my wife and I went to see guitarist Eric Johnson at a club a few miles from our apartment. The opening act was The Tragically Hip, a band from Kingston, Ontario, about which I knew little beyond a single from 1989, “New Orleans Is Sinking,” which had gotten some airplay on a local rock station. The band was touring behind their second full-length album, Road Apples, released just a few months before we saw them.

By the end of the band’s 45-minute set, we were fans. I had seen only a few bands whose live performance was as focused and powerful -- the J. Geils Band and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band came to mind. Guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois locked together telepathically, Gord Sinclair’s bass playing was melodic and rhythmically sharp, and Johnny Fay hit the snare drum fiercely. The focus of the band was singer Gordon Downie, who introduced “Little Bones” by telling us it was about the best chicken sandwich he ever ate.

Since then The Tragically Hip have released 11 CDs, each combining muscle and finesse in songs that, at their best, are as tough as Exile-era Stones. They experimented with their sound along the way, especially on We Are the Same (2009), but Now for Plan A (2012) was the kind of uncompromising rock’n’roll that made the band great.

Man Machine Poem, the Hip’s latest, takes its title from a song on Now for Plan A. At times boldly experimental, it’s also as hard-edged and uncompromising as the Hip’s best discs. “Man” starts things off with an electronically processed version of Downie’s voice reading the opening lines: “I’m a man and I’m a man / I do what I hate and don’t understand.” The music is moody and builds in intensity, Baker and Langlois playing arpeggios around the keyboards provided by co-producers Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) and Dave Hamelin (The Stills).

“In a World Possessed by the Human Mind” is the kind of medium-tempo rock that the Hip does better than any band I can think of, letting the tension and energy build to a dramatic conclusion. The guitar interplay of Baker and Langlois swirls through “What Blue,” and it’s remarkable how the guitarists can alter their playing to a more open and refined approach without losing sight of the band’s rock and blues essence. Baker’s E Bow guitar solo ups the track’s intensity before Downie returns to close it on an understated note.

Man Machine Poem

“In Sarnia” is moving and slightly batty. Downie’s voice sounds at once like a parody of and a tribute to Morrissey, and it’s hard to imagine another lyricist writing “Just to cool my jets from all the advice” and putting it across so well. Gord Sinclair’s hard-thumping bass anchors “Here, in the Dark,” which features an achingly moving vocal from Downie in this song about love and loss. As it builds to its conclusion, he sings the closing lines against a complex web of guitar lines and backing vocals that grows in emotional intensity.

Fay’s drums sound menacingly large in “Great Soul,” perhaps the album’s strongest track -- it’s epic in sound, and deeply stirring in its spiritual complexity. “Hot Mic” has the overdriven, crunchy guitars Hip fans love, but “Ocean Next,” is a beautiful acoustic ballad from a band that, in its quieter moments, never loses inspiration or energy.

Man Machine Poem ends with “Machine,” which brings into focus what makes the album so special. The guitars are as intuitively locked together as ever, but Baker and Langlois use more arpeggios and single-note lines to give the music more space. Sinclair’s bass is in greater focus and even more rhythmically central, and Fay’s drumming is fluid and muscular. Downie’s words have often seemed willfully obscure in the past, although repeated listens brought clarity; on this disc, he’s clear and profound.

In nearly 30 years and over numerous albums The Tragically Hip have tried new things; only We Are the Same was too deliberate, too much not a Tragically Hip record. Man Machine Poem is the work of a band confident enough to risk expanding its sound and getting even better.

It is also, sadly, the last album we’ll probably get from them. Just before Man Machine Poem was released, the band announced that Gordon Downie has inoperable brain cancer. The Hip will do a final tour of Canada in July and August; my wife and I considered going to one of the shows, but they all sold out quickly. We’ve seen them four times, all in small venues here on the East Coast, and there’s no better live band.

The fact that The Tragically Hip were never as popular in the US as they’ve been in Canada says something about our provincialism. This rock’n’roll band is as good as any country has ever produced. I believe the Hip will be revered by rock historians and critics in the years to come, and listening to this disc and to their greatest records reaffirms that conviction. The world will be a sadder, emptier place without them.

. . . Joseph Taylor