It has been a while since I listened to The Hip's Trouble at the Henhouse. I burned out on The Hip for a while and was unable to listen to much of their catalogue accept for Day For Night and Phantom Power. Actually, it was my friend Elijah who really assisted that burn out (as he is often quick to point out himself) while we were roommates. He had been listening to The Hip almost nonstop from 1996 through to 1998.I had become sick of The Hip and of Trouble at the Henhouse in particular. Phantom Power was an exception when it was released and I still have a real passion for the last five songs on that album. I have listened to their other albums from time to time over the last decade with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Henhouse, though, has taken me a while to get back to.
Trouble at the Henhouse seems almost universally regarded as The Tragically Hip's weakest album, after their self-titled 1st album released in 1987. Mind you, The Hip have a lot of obstacles to overcome and their "fans" are chief among them. Hip fans tend to have many faults, but there are a small number of their "fans" seem to hate anything the band has done after Road Apples. (1991) They complain endlessly how The Hip have sucked ever since and show up at every show they play to bitch about how they played too much new stuff. I last saw The Hip in 1998. I haven't like an album since Phantom Power so I haven't bothered going to the shows. (In there lies a hint for some people)
Reviewers haven't been overly kind to Henhouse, take Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review for Allmusic.com. I think the Hip's reviews have always been unfair or inaccurate since the band released the very well-received Fully Completely in 1993. Erlewine, for instance, states that Henhouse, "is a set of professional, but rarely exciting, anthemic hard rock that occasionally dips into pedestrian bar-band boogie." Fully Completely is best described as anthemic hard rock, while the bands earlier output often falls under the banner of bar-band boogie. The only one song on Henhouse could possibly qualify as bar-band boogie and that is the lacklustre "Coconut Cream" - but even then...
Day For Night (1995) was an unpopular turn for the band in certain respects and many had hoped the band would return to their older sound from before. It's reception was a bit cool but I think criticism was stifled for the most part. Henhouse carried what The Hip had done with Day For Night further and, I think, it bore the brunt of fan dissatisfaction.
I think the album deserves another listen. Songs like "Gift Shop", "Springtime in Vienna", "Don't Wake Daddy", "Flamenco", the decidedly unanthemic drive of "700ft Ceiling", "Apartment Song", "Sherpa" and "Put it Off" are fairly strong songs - or least interesting songs - in their own right. That is 75-80% of the album right there. Gord Downey is an interesting writer and this album showcases some of his more interesting lyrics.
Listening to the album on my stereo and on my headphones in transit on the bus and Skytrain has reawakened me to just how well Henhouse has stood up in the 12 years since its release. It certainly wasn't looking forward to the future nor was it longing for the past. And while Henhouse was certainly and album of the moment for the Hip, it is anything but a creature of its day.