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Record Review

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Anyone looking for literate, Canadian guitar rockers with songs about John Cage need go no further than the ninth album from The Tragically Hip. An arena attraction in their chilly homeland, the quintet, through no lack of trying, can't seem to break into U.S. -- let alone international -- markets. The Hip notoriously draws legions of dedicated followers who follow them around with dogged, Dead-like intensity. Although their manic and powerful live shows are legendary, Music @ Work is yet another maddeningly inconsistent studio release from a band that has some great ideas and solid ensemble playing but a frustrating inability to put it all together.

That's not to say this album doesn't have its moments. Producer Steve Berlin from Los Lobos keeps the three-guitar lineup sounding crisp and anthemic, with jittery frontman Gord Downie's nasally vocals up front. Unfortunately the songs meander; Downie's impenetrable, stream-of-consciousness lyrics are often plain silly, and the melodies can't always worm their way through the bluster. After a while, even the most ardent fan has to admit that the songs start to sound similar, and Downie, for all his visual appeal and artsy intentions, wears perilously thin over the course of 13 tracks.

If you're already a believer, Music @ Work delivers enough powerful rockers to maintain the allegiance of those who find Downie an under-appreciated genius. To the rest of us, it's another workmanlike album from a band whose enormous popularity in their northern homeland is simply head-scratching.

The Tragically Hip play the Roxy on Thurs., Oct. 12.

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