Lustre Parfait

Lustre Parfait

Arriving nearly six years after The Tragically Hip singer’s 2017 death, Lustre Parfait makes it feel like we’re still just getting to know the late, great Gord Downie. While his previous posthumous solo releases—2017’s Introduce Yerself and 2020’s Away Is Mine—were atmospheric, introspective affairs written on borrowed time in the midst of his battle with cancer, the circumstances and spirit behind Lustre Parfait couldn’t be more different. The project’s origins date back to the late 2000s, when the Hip recorded a pair of albums with superproducer Bob Rock (who’s worked with everyone from Metallica to Michael Buble). After bonding over their shared experience of growing up in midsize Canadian cities (Rock in Winnipeg, Downie in Kingston) and dreaming of escaping them, Downie suggested writing lyrics for Rock, who hadn’t released any music of his own since leading early-’90s riff-mongers Rockhead. “He was definitely hungry to do something different outside the Hip,” Rock tells Apple Music. “This was just about us being friends and just loving music and making records—that was the basis of it all.” Despite being a towering figure in Canadian rock, Downie was always eager to surrender to the whims of his collaborators on his non-Hip ventures, be it the eccentric art-folk he made in the 2000s with Toronto DIY veteran Dale Morningstar, or the more textural production he explored later on with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. On Lustre Parfait, he fully commits to the role of fronting the Bob Rock Revue, leading a rotating cast of musicians—including Hip drummer Johnny Fay and Tom Anselmi of Vancouver proto-grunge pioneers Slow—through a rousing procession of Celtic-glam stompers (“Greyboy Says”), Springsteen-esque heartland rock (“Something More”), and garage-soul romps (“To Catch the Truth”). “Really, there was no vision to it,” Rock admits. “But I think that’s what was so fun for Gord: He could do whatever he wanted, something so unlike what he’d done before.” Though the album was recorded in fits and starts over seven years in different locales (Toronto, Vancouver, LA, and Rock’s home base of Maui), the brassy buoyancy and moonlit sheen of Rock’s arrangements lend Lustre Parfait a unified and unique character that greatly distinguishes it from both the Hip’s ragged rock and Downie’s more experimental solo efforts. “The Raven and the Red-Tailed Hawk” is an urgent, fleet-footed cavalry charge that harkens back to the mid-2000s golden age of Canadian indie-rock collectives, and when the six-minute “Let Me Howl” slips in an extended sax breakdown, we even get a glimpse of what a Downie-fronted Supertramp might’ve sounded like. But no matter how elegant the presentation gets, Downie’s signature tough ’n’ tender tone always cuts through: The hard-fought anthem “HellBreaksLoose” and the impassioned power ballad “Is There Nowhere” (a wind-battered cousin to U2’s “One”) deserve a place among the singer’s finest performances. Given the album’s casual origins and piecemeal methodology, Lustre Parfait never had a proper deadline—and with both Rock and Downie keeping plenty busy throughout the early 2010s, the record never found its way off the back burner. However, after Downie went public with his terminal-cancer diagnosis, the singer gave Rock his marching orders. “When he was sick, and I talked to him in the last two weeks, he just made me promise that I would make sure everybody heard this,” Rock says. The fact that it took six years for the producer to make good on that promise speaks to Rock’s intense personal attachment to the project. “When Gord passed away, it was really tough,” he says. “I couldn’t really listen to the record, to be quite honest.” However, as Rock attests, the passage of time ultimately worked to the record’s advantage: After revisiting the project with fresh ears, he came up with a new mix that elevates the Lustre Parfait into a gilded shrine to one of the most charismatic singers and gifted lyricists in Canadian rock history. “The mixes that I did before didn’t serve Gord—I think I had it too ornate before,” Rock admits. “And I realized what was so special about the record was his lyrics and his vocals. So, when I remixed it, I pushed him out front because he’s the main thing. Really, I think the whole album is about Gord’s voice. He was in his prime. He’s amazing.”

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