Phantom Power (Deluxe)

Phantom Power (Deluxe)

“Phantom power” is audio tech-head jargon for the voltage that activates a microphone’s circuitry through the same cable that transmits the audio signal, thereby creating the illusion of a self-energizing device. It’s also a perfect way to describe how The Tragically Hip operated throughout the ’90s, when it seemed like the Kingston, Ontario, rockers were drawing from some mysterious, endlessly renewable power source of their own. By 1998, the Hip could’ve released an entire album of pure white noise and it still would’ve charted well in Canada, but Phantom Power found them continuing to refine their craft, further cementing their status as the country’s most electrifying and erudite arena-rock act. This band always liked to balance their nervy rockers with folksy ballads, but never before had the Hip’s tough and tender sides been threaded together so seamlessly. “Fireworks” may tick all the boxes of a typical Hip song—namely, a feisty Stones-schooled riff and lyrics about hockey—but it proves to be so much more, thanks to the uncharacteristically carefree melody and Gord Downie’s more playful approach to exploring Canadiana: It’s a song about Team Canada’s legendary victory over the Soviet Union at the 1972 Summit Series, but told from the perspective of some poor schmo who missed Paul Henderson’s momentous winning goal because he was trying to get with a girl who had no interest in watching the game. And where the Hip would often color their quieter moments with feelings of unspeakable melancholy (see: Road Apples’ “Fiddler’s Green”) or creeping anxiety (Trouble at the Henhouse’s “Ahead by a Century”), Phantom Power’s cottage classic “Bobcaygeon” is a pure, guileless expression of love and longing, yielding a gently swaying serenade that vividly conjures the crisp night air and star-filled skies of northern Ontario. This expansive 25th anniversary deluxe reissue of Phantom Power reaffirms just how fruitful this period was for the Hip—you can tell this band was firing on all cylinders by the fact they could afford to leave instantly engaging rave-ups like “Bumblebee” and “Insomniacs” on the cutting-room floor. And the complete concert recording featured here—captured at an October 1998 show in Pittsburgh—showcases the band at peak strength, with Phantom Power deep cuts like “Escape Is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man” holding their own against seasoned warhorses like “Grace, Too” and “At the Hundredth Meridian.” But while Phantom Power stands as the towering capstone to the Hip’s imperial phase, acoustic outtakes like “Mystery” and “Songwriter’s Cabal” point the way to the art-folk idiosyncrasies of Downie's subsequent solo work, marking the turning point where the singer's interests began to diverge sharply from the Hip’s rugged rock vernacular.

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