Review Summary: The Hip's 5th full album is a warm affair, with a couple of Canadian Rock Radio staples and signature charm that will keep a fire in your heart on a cold day.
Trouble At The Henhouse is a well thought out, complete album, and represents the end of an era for Canadian alternative rock legends, the Tragically Hip. In 1996, Kingston, Ontario's favourite sons were riding the acclaim of 4 certified platinum albums in a row (in Canada, naturally), and it seems as though they wanted to have a little fun before going back to the drawing board to produce their 1998 album, Phantom Power. TATHh, is probably an album best suited to established Hip fans. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but still delivers an easy to listen to album that is at times anthemic, profound, hilarious, tender and even a bit spacey.
The album begins with a palpable morning chill as the sun rises over the horizon to thaw the listener in the ice-breaker, "Gift Shop". Positivity exudes from the voice of singer/lyricist Gordon Downie as he reflects on our place in the world. "Springtime In Vienna" cleverly utilizes hazy down-tempo verses that build to the pounding anthemic chorus proclaiming that "we live to survive our paradoxes". Drummer Johnny Fay has a very straight forward approach, but he has a great sixth sense when it comes to building tension or energy in verses before he pounds his way through the chorus.
A similar dynamic is employed in the fan-favourite "Ahead By A Century", where acoustic guitars and light percussion spiral upwards to a heart-felt refrain. The lyrics here are of an exceptional quality and denote an artist in his element, as they effortlessly capture the dynamics of a couple discussing their dreams "illusions of someday, cast in a golden light, no dress rehearsal, this is our life", without being wordy or condescending. The chorus brings gravity to the process, leaving the interpretation open to the listener, "And that's where the hornet stung me, and I had a feverish dream of revenge and doubt, tonight we smoke them out". It could be regret of addiction, abuse, or simply not seizing the moments in life, but these thoughts are coaxed gently to the surface with warmth and grace, too.
The album climaxes 3 songs later with the bombastic "700 Ft. Ceiling", which sounds as though it would have been at home on the band's previous album, "Day For Night" The lyrics are dark and intriguing and the delivery is flawless, bringing the energy level back up before the quirky "Butts Wigglin". This song is weird jam written for the feature film "Brain Candy" by the popular and irreverent Canadian comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall (if you can find it, buy it!), and makes only slightly more sense in the context of the movie. There are 3 more skippable, but still worth while songs before the album winds down with the laid back stoner-jam "Sherpa", and the tense but meditative closer "Put If Off".
This album probably won't convert first time listeners, but is certainly easy to play all the way through, and has some stand out tracks that rank up with the best of the band's catalogue. Established fans will enjoy pondering the lyrics and jamming on the deep tracks, as well as singing along with the classic tracks. The performances are notable for their dynamics more than their technicality, and the chemistry which makes up a large part of the band's appeal. It's a great album for a chill drive out of the city, or a winter night spent in front of a fire, and as with most Tragically Hip music, is best enjoyed in the company of friends.
Stand Out Tracks:
- Gift Shop
- Ahead By A Century
- 700 Ft. Ceiling