By Taylor Benn, October 31 2017 —
Most of us are familiar with Gord Downie’s story. However, it wasn’t until the release of Introduce Yerself that we could truly feel it. After the announcement of his terminal cancer and the conclusion of the Tragically Hip’s final tour, Downie dedicated his remaining time to family, his Indigenous activism — nodded to in the album’s final track, “The North” — and his own words.
The beauty of Introduce Yerself lies in its context. It’s impossible to listen to Downie’s swan song without acknowledging what he was going through when recording during two four-day stints in January 2016 and February 2017.
In “Bedtime,” Downie lulls about the early days of being a father and rocking his children to sleep. The rawness of this track, along with the album’s other 22 cuts, is unquestionable. It pulls you into the throes of his own mortality and the difficulty of saying goodbye to loved ones.
In “Yer Ashre,” a short acoustic track, you can feel relief in Downie’s voice. It is the shared story between two people weathering a lifetime of storms and only finding solace on solid ground in its final moments.
“Love Over Money” is more upbeat. It relishes in the adventures shared with Downie’s Tragically Hip bandmates and celebrates their journey on the road to Canadian fame. The track is humorous and hard-hitting — like if reminiscing about a night out with friends had a sound.
Downie’s isolated final months created distance between him and his fans. We were left grieving a separate pain — a loss of an icon. But Introduce Yerself brings closure to our pain and Downie’s urgency. Unlike the music he was notorious for — with metaphorical, puzzling lyrics and strong strings from Tragically Hip bandmates — this album is one of clarity. Every word is meant to be understood as it was written. Every goodbye is meant to be one of mutual warmth, struggle and celebration.
Downie, with the help of Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, wrote Introduce Yerself with far more intimacy than we have seen from him before. Shaking off the cryptic nature of his life’s work, he tore his heart out and handed it to us in an album that transcends the deepest sincerity of humanity.