Review: Gord Downie’s farewell album is intimately universal

October 26, 2017

This cover image released by Arts & Crafts shows "Introduce Yourself," a release from Gord Downie. (Arts & Crafts via AP)

Gord Downie, “Introduce Yerself” (Arts & Crafts)

Gord Downie was blessed with the chance to say goodbye and he makes the most of that opportunity on “Introduce Yerself,” a 23-song farewell to friends, family, bandmates and others which leaves a lump in your throat and a smile on your face.

Downie was the frontman of The Tragically Hip and a genuine Canadian icon. Mourning for his death from brain cancer at age 53 on Oct. 17, about 18 months after his illness was revealed, was led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The band’s tour in the summer of last year was his public exit and “Introduce Yerself” is its intimate counterpart.

Recorded over two, four-day sessions in January 2016 and this February, many of the songs, mostly co-written with producer Kevin Drew, from Broken Social Scene, are first takes relying principally on guitar, piano and drums. On one tune, clattering hockey sticks provide the percussion.

Some of the dedications are relatively easy to decode, as with “Bedtime” (tucking in one of his children), “Love Over Money” (about his Hip bandmates), or “My First Girlfriend.” For others, like album closer “The North,” it’s good to know about Downie’s advocacy for Canada’s indigenous peoples or, concerning the title track, his late struggles with memory loss. A handful, like “A Better End,” ″Snowflake” or “Yer Ashore,” seem even more mysterious or intimate.

The emotional charge of the tunes is impossible to miss and if you can sometimes hear the music stretching to catch up with the words, or vice versa, it’s an indication of the album’s urgency.

Downie said “each song is about a person,” but with so much being expressed in such a poetic way, it’s inevitable that many, many more will be touched.

Update hourly