On her latest release, thinking-woman's rocker Liz Phair may have stumbled trying to repackage herself for the mainstream -- drawing snarky comparisons to Avril Lavigne -- but it's safe to say that Gord Downie won't be mistaken for nü-metal Nickelback's Chad Kroeger anytime soon.
After all, Downie writes songs about Russian nuclear submarine disasters and even quotes Chekhov in his lyrics (the Soviet-era poet, not the Star Trek guy) on his latest release, Battle of the Nudes. For the album, Downie took a break from his band, the Tragically Hip, and rounded up a group of musicians from other cool Canadian bands for a side project. Now Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles are touring the country.
Anyone who has followed Downie's career with Canuck rockers the Hip knows his sesquipedalian lyrics, enigmatic stage presence (on stage, sometimes he looks like he's in a trance) and charity work make him one of the most credible musical artists in the world. Apparently, though, he would rather keep touring, playing ever more obtuse compositions, than sit at home in Toronto watching the interest build on his sizable retirement plan from his tenure as chief Hipster.
Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles
The Engine Room, 1515 Pease
Saturday, July 26; for information, call 713-654-7846. $15
"This was never done out of some kind of deficit situation," Downie says from his Toronto digs. "I just always had extra songs that never made it onto a Hip album." For example, Battle's acoustic opening cut, "Into the Night," was a song Downie brought to the Hip for its latest album, In Violet Light. Downie says the rocked-up version the Hip tried out just didn't capture his idea, so it was shelved. Until now.
Battle carries the stamp of the musician's inimitable style. For example, in his punkish ode to parenthood, titled "We're Hardcore," Downie sings about how he and his wife are no longer "hobbyists" -- i.e., adults who keep a relative's kids for a weekend and then know everything about parenting -- since they have three kids of their own.
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"My approach for this has always been lighthearted and fun," says Downie. "Actually I've been sitting here learning some Bob Dylan songs because we've been playing a new cover every night. According to my John Lennon mythology, this is a time of great growth."