The first few seconds of In Between Evolution offer a summation in miniature of both why the Tragically Hip are so great and why mainstream success has eluded them, at least in the United States. A distorted guitar chimes out a road-ready riff, soon joined by a taut rhythm section. Then lead singer Gordon Downie shouts out "Here's a glue guy, a performance God," in a pinched howl that sounds like it's ready to veer off-key at any second. That combination of arena rock and indie sensibility is exactly what fans have come to expect from the band; the approach isn't all that different from Pearl Jam's more recent work, except that Downie's lyrics have always been, well, weirder and more literate than the hits that took Pearl Jam to the top of the charts. None of that explains why the Hip still sell out stadiums and sell millions of albums in their native Canada, but In Between Evolution is both accessible and challenging enough to satisfy longtime fans and newcomers. The slight dissonance that marks that opening track, "Heaven Is a Better Place Today," fits perfectly the combination of mourning and triumph that the band captures in the song, a tribute to hockey player Dan Snyder, who died in a car crash in late 2003. When Downie sings "If and when you get into that end zone, act like you've been there a thousand times before," he breathes new life into the tired sports cliché because what's come before is so evocative and honestly rendered, and also because there's not another cliché to be found for the duration of the album, which is one of the band's hardest rocking and most politically charged. "It Can't Be Nashville Every Night" takes aim at Toby Keith and the mindless, macho jingoism he represents, while "Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park" further dissects the "us and them" mentality Downie sees overtaking the world around him, particularly in the U.S. As usual, guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois offer sympathetic accompaniment, giving "Gus" a sinewy, sinister feel that perfectly mirrors the lyrics' portrayal of a beast out to destroy whatever frightens it. The band thunders through almost every track, a juggernaut of guitars and drums that lets up only toward the end, easing back on the sonic assault on the rueful "Are We Family," where Downie tries to comprehend our common humanity in the face of a world where we're "taking care of each other one bullet to another." In Between Evolution is as rewarding as it is relentless, another fine addition to the Tragically Hip's catalog of thinking person's rock.
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AllMusic Review by Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen