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Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies – Gordon

Their first record, this is their finest. There’s a fine control to the goofy humour, and an insouciant energy that’s still just the bunch of talented crazies who stuffed themselves into the Speakers Corner box to play. So much fun! The sound is perfect, and the songs are impeccable. I first heard this in the art room at high school (thanks to Brian and Skippy), got my own copy post-haste (these days I own both CDN and US releases), and have I loved it ever since. Quite untouchable.

Barenaked Ladies – Maybe You Should Drive*

How to follow the strength of Gordon? Keep the signature sound and brilliant playing, but get a bit more serious (while maintaining the fun, not an easy feat). Each song is unique. It was also the record that had to happen. If they’d tried to remake Gordon, we wouldn’t have gotten to see this other side to the band, and they probably wouldn’t have been as successful as they became later. To me, this is solid gold. And paired with Gordon, it’s a one-two punch about which other bands can only dream.

Barenaked Ladies – Stunt**

Another excellent record, but this one has an edge to its pop sheen. The playing is still unimpeachable, the musical styles are still wide and varied, but there’s a darker element here, the playful comes packed with a punch. And that’s really odd, considering this was the record that truly introduced them to the world outside Canada and is a favourite among some fans. The hits are here, of course, but this record feels really tense. It’s like they’re doing this because they must, to get famous, not as much because it’s fun anymore. Still a good, hook-filled listen, for all that.

NB: I was a first day buyer of this CD in HMV at 333 Yonge in Toronto. The first however-many copies were autographed, and I got mine (see photo, below). My copy also has the two bonus tracks (the hilarious She’s On Time, and Long Way Back Home).

Barenaked Ladies – Maroon

I don’t tend to spin this one as much and, in fact, it’s about the point where I started to drift away from BNL. It’s no fault of the band’s, really, maybe I just grew out of it. No, that’s not right, I still perk up when I hear them, still love them, I just haven’t bought a new release of theirs since this one, 14 years ago, and when I do play them it tends to be the first four records. My tastes must just have shifted. Aw, I can’t hate on it, though. It still sounds like them and has the hits you know.

Barenaked Ladies – Everything To Everyone

I bought this for $2 in our local thrift shop in a fit of nostalgia. I wasn’t blown away, and I wasn’t diappointed in it either. It’s more catchy pop tunes that are very good. And, in fact, it is aptly titled, as they cover a lot of styles sure to appeal to someone somewhere. The spin I gave it for this blurb didn’t rekindle my passion for them, though, and there’s a part of me, the part that really wants to like this, that still finds that tough to write. Perhaps I need to spend more time with it. I’d be willing to do that.  NB: My copy has 3 acoustic tracks tacked onto the end, I don’t know if that’s the regular edition or not.

 

* Bought in Taranna with Mike on our 2014 jaunt.
** I’ve already reviewed the album previous to this, Born On A Pirate Ship (1996), here.

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Barenaked Ladies – Born On A Pirate Ship

I got this in Toronto on my trip with Mike this year. It was in the 3 For $10 bin at BMV so I rescued it because it’s worth waaaaay more than that! Also, I needed to replace my copy so win-win!

By the time of this, their third, full-length, I was deep into my love of BNL. Hearing this again now takes me right back to those days. And through my ears in 2014, this one stands up completely. Not a bad song here! It’s still (what I think of as) classic period BNL, full of that sound they used to have that’s so infectious, with songs that are pop perfection, achingly gorgeous, goofy and just plain fun (in combinations thereof, as well) – and all of them so damn smart and well-written… Damn!

This also only reminds me that it ain’t really BNL without Page. I know, I know, that ship has probably sailed. But there’s something about those two voices, Page and Robertson (ha, I almost wrote Page And Plant!) in combination that just works. As it is now is surely fine, but how it used to be is how I know it best.

The hits are here, like The Old Apartment and Shoe Box, and one of my all-time faves is Break Your Heart, but there’s so many others I’ll just list ’em so you can nod in agreement: Stomach Vs. Heart, Straw Hat And Old Dirty Hank, I Know, This Is Where It Ends, When I Fall, I Live With It Every Day, Call Me Calmly, Spider In My Room, Same Thing, Just A Toy, and In The Drink.

See what I mean? Awesome.

 

Barenaked Ladies – Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001)

I pulled this CD off the pile and thought ‘yeah, well, this won’t take long. Everybody knows all of these songs anyway, so I can just whip something off and be done with it.’

As it turns out, this is not the case.

I have a loooong history with BNL. It goes back to Gordon, and a couple of crazy guys we knew in high school who played it for the rest of us kids who weren’t as hip as they were. They also spent stupidly high amounts of money on Oakley sunglasses, but that’s not likely related.

But it was because of them that I was a first-day buyer for Maybe You Should Drive, and went back and got Gordon straight away. I also own three Mint (M) copies of the band’s indie, yellow cassette they made in their basement. Am I a geek?

I was with them for a long time, even stood in line for a first-day release autographed copy of Stunt at 333 Yonge’s HMV, yet they lost me after Maroon. Why? I don’t blame them, not one bit. They do what they do. But my personal musical tastes had changed, dramatically, and they weren’t so much a part of my musical landscape after that. And Steven Page left, at some point. Whatever the reasons, it wasn’t the same without him.

I still love them. They’re like old friends. I toss on those old records and am transported back, and even now when I listen to them it inspires me to go and do something similar for myself, write some crazy songs and put them out there and see what happens… yeah. It hasn’t happened yet. But it might! Just you wait and see!

So, this disc. It collects a metric shit-ton of amazing tunes up to 2001. I’m a big, big fan of the early stuff, so a hits set like this is both a) right in my wheelhouse and b) redundant, since I know all the records inside and out. There’s lots of stuff that should’ve been included, but that’s true of every hits set. I do not envy anyone whose job it is to cull through a collection and make up a 1CD set of a band’s entire discography. I’d rather clean toilets. In bus stations. On the night shift. Without proper supplies.

So if I own the records, do I need this disc? Not really, except there’s a couple of new (at the time) tracks. It’s Only Me (The Wizard of Magicland) is a lifting pop/rock/new wave gem that could double as a TV show theme. And then there’s Thanks That Was Fun, a mid-tempo loper. The rhyming lyrics feel forced and something to be endured, to me, but the rest is really pretty great.

Also cool is the inclusion of a King Of The Hill soundtrack song (Get In Line), and the band’s cover of Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which had previously only ever been found on the tribute CD to Bruce Cockburn. On this CD, Brian Wilson and What a Good Boy (with its original outro, left off the album) are both from the Rock Spectacle live album. The rest are album tracks and they’re all solid fucking gold.

The liner notes are annotated by Steven Page himself, so you know they’re funny.

In Sum:

This was a total flashback listen for me. It was also absolutely and completely enjoyable. I do (usually) complain about live tracks on hits sets (I fucking hate it), but here it hardly matters, because we all know these songs in our hearts and minds anyway. It’s a snapshot of a period of my life, and I’ll proudly hang it in my locker.

SLCR #147: Barenaked Ladies w/Joel Plaskett (April 13, 2010)

The evening was off to a rough start. I walk to and from my office; normally, I find this a pleasant way to gear up for/wind down from the work day. However, this was not an average walk. Maybe it’s just that I’m outside more here, but I really do think that Regina’s weather tends to be more intense than in Saskatoon. Most of the time, this means that the wind gets windier, but on this day, the rain was rainier. Barenaked Ladies would later describe the rainfall as "biblical." By the time I was a block from my apartment, I had abandoned all hope, and was just plowing directly through the puddles, which at one spot hit mid-calf. The drainage system in Regina is most definitely not drainier.

So I got inside, showered, changed, ate, and prepared to head back out. And when I say "changed," I mean that I had to change everything. I figured for one night I could wear my dress shoes with jeans. They’re not THAT dressy, and besides, nobody would be looking at my feet anyway. Then I opened the closet and remembered that oh yeah, I WAS going to buy new dress shoes sometime. Guess I never got around to it. That left me with sandals, winter boots, or fuzzy Animaniacs slippers from 1995. I like how I had to mention the age there as though THAT’S the reason I chose not to wear fuzzy slippers to a concert. Anyway, given a nice varied range of unacceptable choices, I decided to stick with my wet shoes, hoping that wearing three pairs of socks would help. I can’t say it didn’t help, but it didn’t help a lot.

I got to the Conexus Arts Centre with about ten minutes to spare. I like these shows where I can time things properly and sit in chairs that are almost nice and be home on time. Despite what you must now be thinking, I was far from the oldest person at the concert – far from the youngest, too. Just a guy sitting in the second row. Good seats are easy to get if you’re going by yourself. I didn’t think I’d have a lot of luck getting someone to go with me. The tickets were fairly costly and I really don’t know how many people care about Barenaked Ladies these days. I haven’t thought the last few albums were anything special – really, nothing dating back to that song about the monkey postcards.

Before the show, I had just enough time to check out the stuff table. Nothing exciting. No shirts I’d probably ever wear, and albums I (or Mika) already own. BNL were selling their newest album but I didn’t pick one up since I got a free download with the ticket purchase. I assume a lot of people there got it too – does anyone buy tickets anywhere other than online anymore? Not that I don’t appreciate having a tangible physical album to take up space on my yellow shelf, but I really don’t listen to much music these days that isn’t being played off a hard drive or USB stick.

Joel Plaskett, accompanied by Peter Elkas, took the stage right on time. The short review is that their set was a delight, though it was way too short (about 35 minutes) and I wished it had been Barenaked Ladies opening for him instead of the other way around. Judging by what Mika said, they played the same songs at the Saskatoon show the night before, with one exception – someone in Regina yelled out for Fashionable People, so we got that and Saskatoon didn’t. Which is fine and all, I like that song and their two-man version of it was pretty amusing, but I prefer Penny For Your Thoughts, which they played in Saskatoon. Stupid people yelling from the crowd and taking my song away. But whatever – it was still a really fun performance. Joel Plaskett always comes across like he’s delighted that anyone has paid to see him and this delight is infectious. I’m not sure how anyone could have a bad time at one of his shows. And once again, we were told that he’d be back in the fall; I remain hopeful but I have been burned by that little white lie before.

Now, I didn’t have the highest hopes for Barenaked Ladies. I’d seen them before, many years ago, and have been a fan for many years, but either their music or my taste has changed over time. Like I said above, I haven’t really cared for their latest albums, and I haven’t listened to the older ones in a long time. Add to that the departure of one of the group’s key songwriters and vocalists, and I really wasn’t sure what I was in for.

All in all, I had a pretty good time. BNL has always been better live than recorded, and the recent lineup change hasn’t altered that. I really can’t say there were many times when I noticed Steven Page’s absence at all. Though each band member was given their own turns in the spotlight, it was Ed Robertson who handled most of the lead vocals, and… I can’t say he did a Steven Page impression, exactly, but it seemed like he sang Steven’s songs the way he was used to hearing them. In a few parts, Kevin Hearn took over Page’s vocals and those sounded quite different than what I was used to, but not in a bad way.

As expected, there was much wacky banter and made-up songs and running jokes as the evening went on. I’m not sure how I feel about that; sometimes this could be really amusing, but at times, the wackiness felt… if not scripted, then at least scheduled. Like, every night between song #4 and song #5, it’s time to crack wise at each other and make up a song about it.

Speaking of the songs, there was a decent mix of older numbers and new ones, with three songs from their first album, probably a half-dozen or so from their latest, and a few scattered about from the rest of their albums (as well as the theme song to The Big Bang Theory, which was a special request from someone in the crowd). Judging from what Mika said, the setlist was at least somewhat varied from the previous night’s show (from the sounds of it, Regina got more older songs, which is fine by me). And they didn’t play Another Postcard, a truly horrible song about chimpanzees that was one of the most ill-advised singles in the entire history of recorded music, so really, I have nothing to complain about, setlist-wise.

Since I’d bought the ticket specifically to see Joel Plaskett, it was an awfully pricey evening – more than double the cost of the last time I’d seen him, for a set that was less than half as long. But of course, that’s not a fair comparison, and it’s one that feels like nitpicking since I had a better time at the show than I expected. At the cost of the ticket (around $75 for just me, once you got all the fees and taxes in there), I wouldn’t automatically go again, but with the right opening act, I’d probably be there.

BNL Question

So, I heard on the news recently that Ed Robertson, of Barenaked Ladies fame, crashed a plane that he was piloting, not long after take-off. I’m totally glad that everyone walked away unscathed. That’s truly what matters most.

I couldn’t help wondering, though:

When it happened, did it feel just like he was Falling For The First Time?

(beat)

Yes, that was bad. Uncalled for, even. Wrong of me to diminish what must surely have been a terrifying experience.

But you laughed.

Admit it.

Barenaked Ladies – Public Stunts, Private Lives

I’ve always liked the Barenaked Ladies. I bought The Yellow Tape all those years ago (and I still have it), and I was tuned right in when Gordon hit huge. This is all thanks, in part, to the infectious enthusiasm of my high school buddy Brian, who loved them first out of everybody I knew. They were an essential part of my formative teen years’ soundtrack, and I am still cheered by their continued presence all these years later. 

BNL used to be one of those bands I collect, meaning that when they released a new album, I was right there in line on New Release Tuesday to get my copy. We usually made a special trip to Toronto for it. I remember getting one of only 300 signed copies of Stunt at the big HMV on Yonge Street, which shows you how close to the front of the line I was, that time.  You know, even at that I suppose I should only ever have bought them from Sam’s, eh? Hm… Anyway, when I got these treasures home, I’d play each release several times all the way through before I started focusing on individual songs. But you’ll notice I said ‘used to be’ at the start of this paragraph. Read on.

I was the ‘jazz’ kid in high school, listening to Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis when the ‘cool’ kids were banging their heads to Metallica (I was a late-starter for metal, I admit it), or worse, they were singing along to really, really bad Bon Jovi ballads. I wasn’t much one for what was on the radio, even then. But BNL awesomely offered me that middle ground between pop music and the swinging, jazzy sound I loved, another reason I played them constantly.

What attracted me most to the band was their musical creativity, their genuine mix of goofy yet sincere hilarity, and utter seriousness. I knew all the words to their songs, and wasn’t afraid to admit it. From a musician’s stand-point, their records really are rather brilliant and fun. Set aside the lyrics (which are great all by themselves) and listen to the way the instruments play off each other (this especially works best through good headphones) – the difference in the sound offered by the upright bass, the slap of the bongo drums here and there, complimenting the kit, those awesome little guitar runs that fit perfectly… Yeah, think of me what you will, but these guys were big with me for a long time. I even truly liked the records others didn’t. I’m not naming any names.

I can tell you’re waiting for the But… so here it is. Something happened along the way, and I can only point to a few things that led me to, well, not quite caring so much. It saddens me just to mention it, given how much I invested for so long. Now, I’m not gonna be holier than thou and say that once they hit it big in the States I stopped listening, ‘cos it’s not exactly true and I wish them nothing but the success they so obviously crave. I’m not greedy, I can share! Hm. Maybe I grew up a little, but even that’s not fair since their music was always only child-like on a superficial level, and sophisticated underneath. Maybe it’s just that my tastes changed, which definitely happened (and happens to all of us), but part of me still believes I was always gonna love these guys.

Part of it was that they changed, too. A wider audience made them somehow less spontaneously fun (on record – I’m sure the live shows are still a blast). The difference between writing fun lyrics and trying to write fun lyrics, perhaps. Maybe they’ve grown jaded, or age and family responsibilities changed them. Hell, I’d have lost just as much interest if they hadn’t changed, but somehow it grew up wrong (for me).

I clearly give this far too much thought, and still haven’t hit on a definitive answer. Yet.

So when I recently found Paul Myer’s book in the library, of course I had to read it. Call it my own nostalgia for a band that’s still going strong… So. Being a fan of the band, this book didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. Oh, it’s well-written, and it paints them as the friendly, curious and intelligent guys they are, and anyone just getting interested in the group at this late date would do very well to read it. It’s obvious this volume was meant for the American audiences that have come late to the story. I mean, I’d already heard the Slint story many times. I was already aware of the way things came about in the first place (the camp, Corky and the Juice Pigs, the endless hard work and self-promotion). My copy of Gordon has the original cover on it. That sort of thing.

I didn’t know, though, that Tyler Stewart was quite so obnoxious about getting into the band. He fits well enough, I suppose, and we appreciate his enthusiasm, but yeesh. What is it about drummers? You’d think it was his band and idea – what does he think his name is, Lars? OK, that’s not fair. Lars actually did start Metallica, with James Hetfield. Tyler came along a little after the fact, in BNL history, but whatever.

Interestingly enough, this book ends with Maroon set to be released, and that record (and here I get back to the point I was making earlier) is the last one I rushed out to buy on New Release Tuesday. Oh, I have everything they’ve released since, in my collection, but the Relase Date Urgency finally fizzled with that release. There seems to be a line of demarcation at that point, for me, so this volume makes a nice book-end for the way the band has evolved (or devolved) in my listening habits. Sad, I know.

I recommend that you read this book. And check out all of Barenaked Ladies’ records, if you haven’t already. Start at the beginning.

The band is still great, don’t get me wrong. And hey, if BNL is vanity-Googling their name, sorry guys. I am still listening, just not so much as I once did. I listen to their earlier records way more than the more recent stuff. So be it, I guess.

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