Published Apr 15, 2014In recent years, the onstage presence of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has grown stale. Once this country's gold standard of improvisational electricity, he's fallen back on tired miming gestures over recycled greatest hits-laden setlists. It would appear then that the infrequent jam sessions with alt-country pirates the Sadies, themselves able to take their live sets into strange new places on a whim, has given Downie the jolt he needed to find his stride again both in terms of song-writing and performance.
This ten-track effort clocks in at a hasty 30 minutes and, as is to be expected with a collaboration based on sporadic get-togethers over seven years, lacks cohesiveness. The back end sputters off, especially "Saved," which features very little direction and more hushed Downie than the Sadies.
Make no mistake, though: when the five of them are on the same page, there's an intimidating energy. On the crashing "Crater," Downie sounds 20 years younger, with a snarl reminiscent of the Tragically Hip's dark, mid-'90s heyday. He also finely complements the Sadies' psych leanings on album standout "Budget Shoes."
It's all very fun and whimsical, and provides an opportunity for Downie's barroom poetry to get a little meaner while singing alongside a band that refuses to slow down with age. "You sound hard/ You sound dope/ You sound like you lick your own envelopes" he sings with attitude on "One Good Fast Job," a song that struts with a Johnny Cash-vibe.
More of a collection of peaks and valleys than a record that speaks to one singular vision, the tracks that do ultimately catch fire make those that don't seem like afterthoughts. The energy bodes well for both Gord Downie and the Sadies in the future. (Arts & Crafts)