Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Tragically Hip: Northern Lights

For two decades, The Tragically Hip has built a reputation for smart, moody, folk-tinged rock music, in the process winning a huge grassroots audience in its native Canada. The band has long followed the adage, "Write what you know," lacing its tales of everyday life with striking images of Canada's environs and culture.

Both are abundant in "The Last Recluse," a gorgeous ballad from The Tragically Hip's latest album, We Are the Same. Referencing the graceful and cantankerous bird bearing the country's name, as well as the sculpture gracing the Canadian $20 bill (Bill Reid's "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe"), the group imbues what could be a stock tale of crumbling romance with lovely, poetic ambiguity.

Singer Gordon Downie has a voice unburnished by any kind of gravelly gruffness; instead, its clean, pure attack strikes a balance between dryness and sweetness. As guitars, keyboard, mandolin and accordion converge, he fires off questions that may never be resolved: "Who are you? The last recluse?" "The last Canada goose?" "What will I do without you?" The song closes with a layered, wordless chorus of voices, while Downie exits with a series of exclamations — "Who are you?" — that feel like mournful, unanswered bird calls ringing across the water.

Listen to yesterday's Song of the Day, and subscribe to the Song of the Day newsletter.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Cecile Cloutier