Fully Completely (Deluxe Version)
The Tragically Hip’s chart-topping second album, 1991’s Road Apples, elevated this hardscrabble bar band from Kingston, Ontario, into Canada’s most popular rock group. Fully Completely, released the following year, made them legends—a self-contained musical universe with an intensity and identity entirely its own. Seeking to replicate their Canadian success outside their home country, the Hip decamped to London, England, to work with Chris Tsangarides, best known for applying a platinum polish to hard-rock acts like Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest. But in the producer’s hands, the Hip didn’t so much toughen up as branch out. If Road Apples positioned the Hip as the thinking man’s drinking band, Fully Completely betrayed a musical and lyrical depth their previous, classic-rock-rooted work only hinted at.
From the jump, the opening “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)” reveals a newfound finesse, showcasing a band eager to glide where they used to grind. But while it provides ample space for frontman Gord Downie’s latent melodic graces to shine through, the song proved to be a hard sell in a US rock market dominated by the more primal, nihilistic sounds of grunge. Certainly, the titular shout-out and lyrical nods to revered Canadian author Hugh MacLennan flew over the heads of most kids in the mosh pit. And yet “Courage” is the ultimate testament to The Tragically Hip’s own uncommon valour—i.e., their willingness to go against the grain in their own peculiar ways, and sing about the kind of people and places rarely celebrated in rock songs.
Where past Tragically Hip albums were largely rooted in the dive bars, small-town scenery, and personal experiences that birthed the band, Fully Completely finds Downie engrossed in obscure historical figures and arcane geographical details, forging a new national mythology in the process. On the dramatic “Fifty-Mission Cap,” he recounts the chilling true story of a Toronto Maple Leafs player, Bill Barilko, who went missing a few months after scoring the winning goal in the 1951 Stanley Cup Final, while the equally hard-charging “Looking for a Place to Happen” and “At the Hundredth Meridian” respectively deconstruct Canada’s benevolent national identity through the lens of colonialism and regional divides. And on the instant campfire classic “Wheat Kings,” Downie pays tribute to David Milgaard, a Winnipeg man who spent 23 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. Like Road Apples, Fully Completely went to No. 1 on the Canadian album charts, but it proved to be more than just another platinum record for the band to hang on the wall. For Canadian listeners raised on a steady diet of American and British pop culture, it was a wake-up call that their own seemingly placid country had many dark mysteries to unlock, and in The Tragically Hip, they had the perfect band to crack the codes.