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News that the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer shocked a nation that has long embraced the band affectionately known as just “the Hip.” The May revelation also made tickets to its summer tour. There’s a deep love for the Hip, whose songs seem to define what it means to be Canadian. The band, which gave a command performance for the Queen in 2002, showcases the talents of poet-singer Downie throughout their latest album. On “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind,” his lyrics have a spooky foreshadowing: “Just give me the news, it can all be lies/Exciting over fair, or the right thing at the right time.” But there’s plenty of spirit in songs like “Great Soul,” In Sarnia” and “Here in the Dark.” While fans hope for a miracle, the Hip and its charismatic frontman have added to their already impressive legacy.
THE HIP: A PRIMER
In 1990, the Hip was named Most Promising Group of the Year at the Juno Awards. They lived up to the honour: since then, they’ve earned a loyal following far beyond their Kingston, Ont. roots and dropped an impressive 14 studio albums—including three that mark milestone moments—in their journey in music.
Up to Here
The Hip’s first full-length album from 1989 is a great starting point for anyone who might be new to the band. It won them that “Most Promising” prize and sold a million copies on the strength of fan favorites such as the relentlessly driving “Blow at High Dough” and sinister and slinky “New Orleans is Sinking.”
Another million seller, this 1992 release produced an astonishing six singles and songs that unabashedly embrace Canadiana. “Fifty Mission Cap” focuses on hockey mythology, “Looking for a Place to Happen” references explorer Jacques Cartier and “At the Hundredth Meridian” rocks out to the part of Canada “where the Great Plains begin.”
Day for Night
Although not one of the band’s biggest sellers, this was a breakthrough album that led to the Hip’s appearance on Saturday Night Live and a prominent spot opening for Plant & Page. Its dark, stream-of-consciousness songs, especially the anxious “Nautical Disaster” and hypnotic “Grace, Too,” have a way getting under any listener’s skin.