The Tragically Hip come from a long line of bands that began as arena-rock-in-my-basement garage outfits, and actually soldiered on to make music worthy of achieving that aspiration. While it's true that 2004's In Between Evolution and the lackluster We Are the Same were missteps because they were squarely aimed at the ever elusive mainstream, Now for Plan A, the Hip's 13th long-player, produced by Gavin Brown, moves them back to their square, toward the immediacy of their earlier records. Its 11 tracks deliver a varied, mostly uptempo, solid sonic ride that combines big-budget rock & roll production with more basic elements of urgency, impulsiveness, and humor. The first notes of opener "At Transformation" come from Gord Sinclair's fuzzed-out bassline on stun; they're answered immediately by Paul Langlois' and Rob Baker's guitar squall and Johnny Fay's popping snare and bass drum. Gord Downie's part-warbled, -sung, -snarled lyrics lay out a simple truth: "I want to be kind not a bullet in the right place..." He knows it's only a dream, based on a limited perception of the "game" of life. With its churning, frenetic pace, the music confronts him with it, but he just beats his head against it, anyway. No surrender. "Streets Ahead" contrasts jangling and distorted guitars, and drives head on into an anthemic melody that's as urgent as punk rock and as catchy as a power pop song. It lifts off and keeps going. "We Want to Be It" initially sounds like a send-up of John Waite's "Missing You," but Downie and company turn it on its head to make it one of the most self-lacerating, broken love songs of the 2010s. Sara Harmer guests on the title track and "The Lookahead." The former commences with an infectious pop hook and gathers in intensity and drama until it nearly goes off the rails. The latter is a languid, drifting meditation on love and commitment that feels rather unfocused. The second half of the record contains its own share of hyperkinetic rockers in "The Modern Spirit" and "Take Forever." "About This Map" and "Done and Done" commence with 4/4 drum kit shuffles before they spread out into atmospheric exercises in rock balladry with varying degrees of success. Now for Plan A ably demonstrates that the Tragically Hip still have it whenever they want it. While there are moments of self-indulgence, they are far from deal breakers.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek