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Gord Downie, the iconic frontman of The Tragically Hip, and Bob Rock, the legendary producer perhaps best known for Metallica’s Black Album, collaborated on the new album Lustre Parfait, recorded intermittingly between 2009 and 2016.

Heavyweight producer Bob Rock was close to Gord Downie. So, when Christmas came and went in 2015 without him hearing from him, Rock “started wondering what was going on.”

What was going on was that Downie, the lead singer and lyricist of the Tragically Hip, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 51. Eventually hearing the grim news from Downie’s younger brother, Patrick, Rock flew to Toronto from his home in Hawaii to visit his friend and musical collaborator in Toronto.

“They were special days,” Rock says, speaking from Maui. “Gord put on some records. We sat and talked, with the music in the background. Strange, but I don’t think I’d done that kind of thing in 20 years.”

The two had made an unreleased album together. Most people did not know the recordings existed. Downie told Rock to make sure everybody heard the lost album. “I told him that of course I would,” Rock says. “I had to do it.”

Now he has. Lustre Parfait, recorded intermittingly between 2009 and 2016, is a gleaming, dynamic album of 14 pop-orientated rock songs busting at the seams. The horn-happy title song swaggers buoyantly. The stomping lead track, Greyboy Says, begins with “A-woo hoo” from Downie, never before considered an a-woo-hoo kind of guy. Something More is brash and heralding – again, the horns – with Downie as an artist-warrior announcing his raison d’être.

“Some things are worth losing for,” he sings, “so, baby, I try to be something more.”

The album is the eighth to bear Downie’s name outside the Hip, and the third to be released posthumously. Downie sang and wrote the lyrics. Rock, who co-founded the Vancouver-based eighties rock band the Payolas before going on to work with the likes of Aerosmith, Cher, Bon Jovi, Michael Bublé and the Hip, wrote the music, played the guitars and put it all together.

Rock has earned 17 Juno nominations, won two Grammys, is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and produced Metallica’s fabled Black Album. How does he think Lustre Parfait stacks up? “I truly believe it is one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”

Yet the record took years to see the light of day. Every lost album has a story (with accompanying mythology), and the curious Rock-Downie creation is no exception.

Rock had produced the Hip albums World Container and We Are the Same, released in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Downie and the Winnipeg-born producer hit it off. “Our friendship was based on being fathers, being Canadian and loving hockey,” Rock says. “We established a very close relationship.”

After the two Hip albums were done, Downie approached Rock about working together, just the two of them. Rock sent him computer files of music he had been working on; Downie sent back lyrics. One of the first songs completed was The North Shore. “We were just laughing,” Rock recalls, “because we thought it was so great.”

The songs were recorded in Maui, Toronto, Bryan Adams’s Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, even a hotel room at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles. For whatever reason, the album was shelved. Rock says he was working on other projects at the time and that Downie was “busy with the Hip.”

When the making of Lustre Parfait began, Downie was restless. “I think Gord wanted more out of life,” says Tyson Parker, who at the time was vice-president, corporate communications and media and artist relations for the Hip’s label, Universal Music Canada. “I think he was pushing the band to its limits, and with that came experimentation.”

Rock was a big part of that experimentation, both on the Hip albums he produced and with the Lustre Parfait project. On the flurry of other non-Hip albums released in the 2010s, Downie worked at different times with the Skydiggers’ Josh Finlayson, the Sadies, Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew.

As a collaborator, Downie was prolific and promiscuous. “He liked the challenge of working with different people, and he wanted to expand his range as a songwriter and be able to write any kind of song,” says Patrick Downie. “He would fully admit that he needed the companionship of a project. He was a more content person when he was working on something.”

Downie threw himself head-deep into Lustre Parfait. He and Rock chipped away at it endlessly; lyrics were rewritten often. “There are stacks of paper for each song,” Rock says.

A graduate of film studies at Queen’s University, Downie wrote a film treatment related to the album. “It’s a complicated arrangement of many characters who are unrelated,” his brother says. “But then their worlds collide through a cataclysmic train derailment.”

After Downie’s brain cancer diagnosis, Rock raced to finish the record but failed to complete the work by the time the singer died in 2017. At that point, he stepped away, the emotions too much. “I couldn’t deal with it, to be quite honest.”

When he came back to it, it was not in his role as a song-writing collaborator but as a pure producer. With a “new perspective,” Rock says he could finish the tracks properly, adding the horns to the title song, for example. The biggest adjustment was to Downie’s vocals. “I realized the most important things were his voice and his lyrics, so I pushed his vocal up where it should be.”

All the better to hear him namechecking a San Francisco DJ (in Greyboy Says) and Johnny Cash (in The Moment Is A Wild Place.) Downie sings one line – ”One more coffee and the bill” – in two different songs.

“He was so happy with the whole process,” Rock says. “It was him reacting to the music, happy to be doing something different.”

Something different, and, in Downie’s words, “something more.”

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