By John Benson
If the cover of The Tragically Hip’s latest album, “Now For Plan A,” is any indication, the Canadian rock act feels quite frisky and limber these days.
The CD booklet features what appears to be the end result of a game of strip Twister. The photo shows one underwear-clad male and what you’d assume was a naked female in a romantic pose.
“Well, yeah,” said guitarist Paul Langlois, calling from Kingston, Ontario. “Strip Twister, basically — that’s the plan A.”
If that’s plan A, plan B must be something unprintable. Nevertheless, Langlois said normally the album title is the last thing decided, but this time around, singer Gord Downie walked in with the idea in mind. The band liked it, thinking it was a funny title for a group that had been around for 27 years. More so, there was an ambiguity about the title of the group’s 12th full-length effort that struck a creative chord with new producer Gavin Brown, whose previous credits include the Metric, Boys Like Girls and Three Days Grace.
Considering The Tragically Hip was coming off of two-straight records — 2006’s “World Container” and 2009’s “We Are The Same” — working with famed hard-rock producer Bob Rock (Motley Crue, Metallica, Bon Jovi, The Cult), Brown’s different approach was recognizable early on in the recording.
“With Bob, he heard the band in a little more dressed up fashion and added more layers,” Langois said. “Gavin may have heard that sort of thing initially, but I think the more we worked together as we were writing and experimenting with recording, the more he came to realize we should be recording live — that that’s our strength.”
Langlois said the songs where Brown’s influence are obvious include lead single “At Transformation,” which he said has “an extra growl and almost an industrial sort of sound.” The song strays into a riskier and wilder territory.
Other songs that Brown said stand out include the energetic “Modern Spirit” and the moody title track, which boasts his crazy guitar parts and guest vocalist Sarah Harmer.
As far as strip Twister is concerned, Langlois promised he has never played it. It turns out aside from cribbage years ago or a good game of chess in a hotel bar, the members of The Tragically Hip don’t play many games these days.
Still, with the idea of Twister so prominent on “Now For Plan A,” the popular interactive ’60s game is apropos considering the fact any band that has been together for decades — with more than 8 million albums sold worldwide and 11 Juno Awards — has gone through its fair share of twists and turns.
“We have, and I think it’s our biggest achievement that we stayed together and we remain friends,” Langlois said. “We’ve had to work at it. With five different people, you have to bend sometimes and compromise and sort of get to the bottom of what the best way is to go moving forward.”