The Tragically Hip weren't particularly concerned with being a mainstream breakthrough by the time they issued their ninth album, In Violet Light. Phantom Power didn't do the job and the obscure Music @ Work was forgettable. Alas, the Hip didn't seem to mind. They don't bow to critics -- only to fans, and they're the reason why the band continues to sell records and sell out stadiums. The Tragically Hip are an honest man's band with an incomparable romance and fans are drawn to that. Their first for Rounder, In Violet Light is a tasteful blend of the band's sharp songcraft and Gordon Downie's classic poetic rants. Early on, Downie proclaims that there's "music that will make you feel great" on the celebratory "Use It Up." Name dropping Springsteen and Randy Newman around a song inspired by a Raymond Carver quote is clever and typically Hip. The ambitious drive of "Are You Ready," which is carried by the electric cross-fire of guitarists Paul Langlois and Bobby Baker, sparks enthusiasm whereas the airiness of "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken" and "A Beautiful Thing" tame the band's dynamic disposition. The feverish "Silver Jet" is a great lyrical adventure; "The Dire Wolf" takes things a bit further with Wallace Stevens as its mainspring, soaring over the beauty of Newfoundland and the Bahamas. The Tragically Hip absorb their surroundings without getting lost, making In Violet Light a natural fit for loyalists. The lag of Trouble at the Henhouse is absent, while the matchless beauty of Fully Completely is reminiscent. The Tragically Hip have always followed their own formula and do it again with In Violet Light for a solid, cohesive piece of work.
There's something quietly reassuring about the Tragically Hip. The Canadian rockers perch themselves on a plateau slightly removed from the action, a post from which frontman Gordon Downie can observe the passing world and offer commentary that ranges from sage to wry, shifting emotive gears with a restless charm. More than a decade on, the quintet continue to play to their strengths, while deftly sidestepping the ruts that can often derail bands that have been together for so long. For In Violet Light, the Hip step outside the cocoon-like ambience of their home studio for a trip to the Bahamas, where producer Hugh Padgham (Sting, Genesis, XTC) helped mold the songs into slightly sleeker shapes than on recent outings. That's most evident on the disc's more aggressive tracks, such as the driving rocker "Silver Jet" and the sinuous "It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken," on which Downie spins a telling tale of a life largely spent on the road. A few of the more expansive songs, such as "Dark Canuck," are stretched a bit thin, but elsewhere the Hip rein themselves in, as on the subtle, serpentine "Throwing off Glass," and cast themselves in a very attractive light, indeed.