Prison Yard Stares and Fleur-De-Lis Tattoos: Road Apples Turns 30

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The Tragically Hip – Road Apples

Released February 19th, 1991 on MCA Records

Produced by Don Smith

Peaked at #1 (Canada)

Singles:

“Little Bones” (#11 Cda)

“Three Pistols” (#1 Cda)

“Twist My Arm” (#3 Cda)

“Long Time Running”

“On The Verge”

You know that band from your local scene that always seemed legendary but then when you moved out of your home town you realized that no one twenty miles out of town had ever heard of them? The Tragically Hip were that band but the local scene was the entire country of Canada. Within the borders of their home country they were superstars, scoring #1 singles and albums and generally dominating the airwaves. Unless they lived in a city where they could pick up a Canadian station (like Detroit, or Buffalo, or that odd town of Erie, PA), however, Americans never heard them. They played to sold-out arenas in Canada and got the afternoon slot on the jam band circuit in America.

Road Apples was their third album, and the follow-up to Up To Here, an album that should be instantly familiar to anyone who’s spent fifteen minutes on a Canadian rock radio station. While Road Apples lacked the sheer amount of radio-conquering singles of its predecessor, it made up for that in a mature, more polished sound. Frontman/poet/severely missed weirdo Gord Downie got more comfortable adding in snippets of his feverish poetry, leaving behind the cutesy wordplay that tends to date some of Up To Here‘s more country-inflected moments in favour of lines like “Prison yard stares and fleur-de-lis tattoos / cannibals are saving all their bones for soup / eating with my fingers and sucking hulls of ships / my parasite don’t deserve no better than this.” The music was still solid roots rock, but played with more power and passion. The pound of the road and of their legendary live shows infuses the recordings, as you might glean from the title, which also doubles as a name for the frozen horseshit you sometimes find on northern roads. Don’t blame them; they wanted to call the album Saskadelphia but MCA thought Americans had never heard of Saskatoon or something.

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