Music Reviews - Gord Downie: Coke Machine Glow

      Date posted: May 20, 2001

Gord Downie, Coke Machine Glow

      Wiener Art Records 7697422112

      Gord Downie has got charm. He is a controlled experiment, a blind vote. He seems to obey some internal methodology, like the crack dealer that never gets high on his own supply.

      I always thought if Gord ever made an album outside of the [Tragically] Hip machine he would go country, smoothing out the band’s rough edges. Instead he delivers a mixed bag of treats, some familiar, some fantastic, but each satisfying. The minimalist production values and understated musicianship push Downie’s vocals to the forefront, which I imagine was the point of the exercise. His lyrics have always been personal, but Coke Machine Glow feels more direct. Instead of telling stories, these songs take on the illusion of conversation.

     From ‘Elaborate:’ “I was talking to Tim. / He said you had a problem but he wouldn’t elaborate. / He was on a streetcar home talking on his cellphone so he couldn’t elaborate. / He said ‘the bad news come down.’ / The triple-screening or the ultrasound didn’t look so great.”

     His poetry is vivid but always grounded in reality. His images are almost exclusively Canadian, but the themes are universal. He is clever enough to back up the childhood images of innocence written by Louie Perez in ‘Boy Bruised By Butterfly Chase’ with his own very adult images of innocence in ‘The Never-Ending Present.’ Feeling green grass between your toes on a lazy summer day is replaced by daydreaming as you kick dirt, waiting for the bus. The connection is made and a portrait of the artist is created.

     ’Trick Rider’ is as beautiful as anything Downie has ever recorded, ‘Nothing But Heartache in Your Social Life’ is as shamelessly indulgent as anything he will (hopefully) ever expose. But even that track doesn’t feel like a waste: it’s fun, and it does fit the flow of the album in some strange way. Gord’s dealing the drugs, but he’s not doing them.

     Guest musicians include Atom Egoyan (yes, that one) on classical guitar, Andy Maize on trumpet, and Travis Good on anything he can get his hands on. Here’s hoping one or two of these songs find their way on to the set list of the next tour, and that Downie finds a few more weeks somewhere down the line to try it on his own once more.

     Darryl Stenabaugh

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