There's been some killer double albums released in the history of rock. Looking through my vinyl stacks, its easy to spot fine examples like the Beatles' White Album, the Who's Quadrophenia, and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.
The new Strippers Union double album, The Undertaking, is killer as well, and will find a hallowed place among those classic titles when my copy arrives in the mail, hopefully very soon.
The SU features a couple of guys from two of Canada's best-ever bands, the Tragically Hip and the Odds. Ex-Hip guitarist Rob Baker and Odds singer-songwriter-guitarist Craig Northey are accompanied by the longtime Odds rhythm section of bassist Doug Elliott and drummer Pat Steward.
When Northey picks up the phone at his home in North Van, the conversation starts with a joke about how disappointing it is that The Undertaking wasn't a triple album--like Yessongs or something.
"Yeah, but we do have our own Roger Dean in Rob," Northey teases back, referring to the famed British artist who created fantasy album-cover art for bands like Yes, Uriah Heep, and Budgie.
It's hard picking a favourite song on The Undertaking, because there's just so many wicked choices among the sprawling 18 tracks. But the first one that comes to mind is "The Enforcer", which might be the prettiest song ever written about a fierce hockey fighter.
"We really like how it turned out as well," notes Northey. "It's hard to do songs with hockey themes in this country. It's instantly kind of trivialized or 'rah-rah', and I think the actual getting inside the irony of someone's existence is a little more interesting."
"I'm in the corners," croons Northey on "The Enforcer", "I raise these calloused hands. The first punch wakes me up, and the second one never lands. I'm here my friend, I'm here to take care of you. I'm here to do what nobody wants to do."
Northey says that he dedicated the song to former Canuck pummeler Gino Odjick the other day.
"He's a great guy," says Northey, "and I think that sort of role that any of those people took on to protect those around them was noble. But as we know it's not an easy life, and it has its repercussions later on."
Another song off The Undertaking that vies for your attention with its pure awesomeness is "Take the Edge Off". But Northey doesn't take credit for its bouncy '70s-funk vibe.
"A lot of the musical things you hear mostly come from Rob," he points out, "almost all of it. I think that might be the only one where I played a guitar riff on the entire double album. On the other two [Strippers Union] records I did play, and we played as a band live, because that was possible at the time. And now it wasn't. And Rob thought on this album he would try to do go down to his studio and do a kind of Todd Rundgren--finish everything except what I was gonna do.
"We had written the songs back and forth over a few years," he adds, "in clusters of four or five songs, and that was one that we wrote in kind of our second or third go at it, whenever I could get out east or Rob could get out here. And then when he had amassed this smorgasbord of tracks for me to be inspired by and just put melodies and lyrics on, that one stuck out as pretty fun."
"Take the Edge Off" is one tune that really shows off the Strippers Union's smokin' rhythm section. Northey counts himself lucky that he's had Odds mates Elliott and Steward at his beck and call all these years.
"I'm the luckiest man in the world in that regard," he says. "I realized early on when I joined the Odds that if I couldn't do something cool with those guys I wasn't gonna be able to do anything cool."
As for hooking up with Baker, that's worked out pretty well too. Northey recalls that they first met back around 1993, after the Hip had come to see the Odds play a set at the Town Pump.
"They just phoned us out of the blue--I believe it might have been Gord Sinclair who called us--and said 'Hey, we really like your record, and do you want to come and hang out with us in Seattle, we're playing down there.' And we said, 'Yeah, we're getting in a car.' So we went down there and watched the show and hung out with them, and by the time 10 or 15 minutes were up it was like we had been friends all our lives."
Northey notes that the bond with Baker only strengthened over time.
"He's a very deep musician," he says, "and he's an amazing deejay. If you have a glass of wine with him starting at about 5 pm the music will just keep rolling and it will be amazing track after amazing track until you can not keep your eyes open anymore and your head is a potato. So he's loving music, and I think that's the hallmark of anybody that I connect with as a musician.
"He's a damn good guitar player too."