THE TRAGICALLY HIP - SASKADELPHIA
Betcha didn’t know that Road Apples, The Tragically Hip’s 1991 sophomore LP, was originally titled Saskadelphia…a name the band coined due to their constant touring and how one city blurred into another. In fact their American record label at the time called it “too Canadian.” The record garnered multiple hits and signalled the moment when the band left its blues rock roots behind for good and began their ascent as a national treasure. It’s the record where lead singer Gord Downie turned his blues bar croon into the nation’s rock voice. Of course, Saskadelphia is the first Hip release since Downie’s passing from brain cancer some four years ago, but it’s also notable because these tapes were supposed to have been destroyed by the Universal Studios backlot fire back in 2008. The Hip were named in a New York Times article as one of the thousands of artists who had original master tapes destroyed…but what wasn’t known was those tapes were secretly transferred back to Canada back in 2001, and the surviving members have been going through them since the summer of 2020.
The six songs found here have circulated widely between keen Hip fans for years so they probably won’t come as that big a surprise to that group (personally, I was already familiar with three of them from having seen the band during the Up To Here tour of 1990), but the more casual fans will find this material fresh and exciting…though definitely reminiscent of that 1990/1991 sounding Hip.
Lead single “Ouch” treads in “Twist My Arm” territory and in all fairness it’s probably not as strong, but it’s a more than fair way to introduce the EP. Lead guitarist Rob Baker was taken aback when hearing the track after so many years, stating:” we were a pretty good little band!”
“Crack My Spine Like a Whip” is one of the better rockers from this period of the band and a song that was played on most nights of their tours between 1990 and ’91. Likewise, “Reformed Baptist Blues” was often a show opener in the late 80s and it finds Downie proclaiming that “God’s salvation doesn’t interest me at all / Found the answer at the bottom of a bottle”…all in all fairly pedestrian though.
The true gem on Saskadelphia is the one that isn’t actually a studio recording, but a live one. “Montreal” is the only track on here that foreshadows where the The Hip was headed, both musically and lyrically. The song speaks to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre that rocked the city and the country back in 1989, where 14 women were murdered because the gunman stated he was “fighting feminism.” The band couldn’t actually find the studio recording, but they chose to use the version they recorded live in Montreal on December 7th, 2000 (not coincidentally the eleventh anniversary of that tragic day). Downie croons, “Don’t you worry, her mother’s gonna make her look good” over top a somewhat melancholy guitar line…this is where you hear Downie start to tell deeply personal Canadian tales in his songwriting and leave behind the somewhat banal blues rock material.
Yes, Up To Here had the breakout single“Blow at High Dough” and the ubiquitous “New Orleans is Sinking”, but it was Road Apples where the band truly established themselves as an act with staying power. Tracks like “Three Pistols”, “Twist My Arm”, “Long Time Running” and “Cordelia” were all staples in the Hip’s live arsenal for years after and all of them helped Downie to become Canadian rock’s poet laureate. Now, as solid as Saskadelphia is, it’s tough to imagine a world where any of these songs supplant the ones on Road Apples, but that shouldn’t take away any of the enjoyment this EP provides to Hip fans starving for some new material!