Release Date: Jun 17, 2016
Record label: Caroline
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Hard Rock
Named after a track that appeared on the 2012 release Now for Plan A, the Tragically Hip’s 13th effort breaks the kind of new ground you don’t expect from a band 32 years into its career. There’s a temptation for some to read the record as a meditation on life and loss given vocalist Gordon Downie’s disclosure earlier this year that he has terminal brain cancer. But Downie has made it clear that the diagnosis came after the record was completed.
The Tragically Hip's 13th studio album is a darkly illuminated, late-career curveball likely to please and confound in equal measure. Rarely since their mid-1990s heyday has the multi-platinum-selling band sounded so intent on crafting something different. Co-produced by Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) and Dave Hamelin (The Stills), this is the Hip at their most challenging, and least immediately accessible.
Just prior to the June 2016 release of Man Machine Poem, the Tragically Hip announced that frontman Gord Downie was diagnosed with brain cancer. Given this news, it's hard not to listen to the album through the prism of mortality, even though the album was completed prior to his illness. Nevertheless, Man Machine Poem does contain an undercurrent of contemplation, darkly pulsing to understated rhythms and playing to muted arenas.
On Man Machine Poem, it's almost impossible to hear the same band that wrote ragged-rock barn-burners like Courage. The Tragically Hip of 2016 are an evolved bunch that lure you in with sonic subtleties rather than brute, bludgeoning, dual-guitar force. The Q107 crowd may be disappointed by the creepy, acoustic-heavy approach on Ocean Next and the dramatic rises and falls in the adult-contemporary-leaning In Sarnia.