Listen to this track by beloved Canadian blues-rock-art-rock quintet seemingly unknown to the rest of the world, The Tragically Hip. It’s “New Orleans Is Sinking”, an early single off of their second album, 1989’s Up To Here. The song remains to be among their most popular tunes, and a staple on Canadian rock radio even today.
I always remember the story a friend’s sister told me. She was driving with her friends in upstate New York somewhere in the early nineties. In passing a marquee outside a low-rent roadside club that said Tonight: The Tragically Hip, they u-turned with squealing tires, and pulled up to the place in a cloud of dust. At the time in Canada, these guys were filling out stadiums. That to me has always been a telling indication of their success outside of Canada’s borders, which is to say not very widespread comparatively speaking. It certainly couldn’t have had much to do with the music.
This is song that touches on existential ideas, while avoiding being too earnest about it thanks to crunchy and interlocked rhythm and lead guitars, a loping Peter Gunn bassline, and singer Gord Downie’s weird, slightly disturbing delivery. What is the core ingredient to this song, and to the Hip’s early sound? I think it’s the way it straddles at least two approaches to delivering rock music to audiences. Read more