BARENAKED LADIES REVIEWS:
Album Score: 12
Barenaked Ladies. What a band name. True story. I told someone that I had been listening to the Barenaked Ladies and he gave me quite a stare. He obviously never heard of this band before ... or he might have heard the name, but had no idea what they were about. He probably wrote them off as raunchy death-metal dorks or something. I'm pretty sure I had the same impression of them when I heard of them back in the '90s when I cared for rock music about as much as I cared for Herman Melville. But for that reason, you realize why their chosen band name is so brilliant. It's a very catchy name. Sure it's misleading, but that might be one reason they gained such a fast fan base. But once you take a moment to listen to them in their debut, you'll discover that they are sweet as kittens.
The Barenaked Ladies don't do anything particularly original music-wise. For the most part, this is music that revisits elements from the poppier moments of the jazz era. But their sound is remarkably fresh, and that's exactly what makes Gordon such a joy to listen to. A lot of fans will attest they like this album the most for the lyrics, and I can definitely see why. Anyone who enjoys songs with funny lyrics will uncover a wealth of material all throughout this work. For my money, these guys' humorous and whimsical lyrics beat out They Might Be Giants by a long shot. The only other album I've heard with lyrics that I enjoy this much is the B-52s debut. Those are the highest compliments, my friend.
Anyone who still had doubts about a band named Barenaked Ladies will be immediately shocked by the opener, “Hello City.” I can remember the first time I listened to it, and the last thing I expected was skiffley jazz-pop with a snappy melody! I also took immediate notice of their starkly unconventional singing chops, which add to the novelty. They don't sound like seasoned singers but a bunch of nerds who figured out how to sing in harmony. “Enid” is the second track, and it's a wholly wonderful and sweet tribute to unrequited love. You might be surprised how complex and engaging the melody is. “Grade 9” might be the funniest song here, and will surely strike a chord with anybody who wasn't home schooled. However, the penultimate “If I Had a Million Dollars” is the most whimsical song of them all, and it's inarguably my favorite moment of Gordon. It's about the sort of things they would buy their girlfriends if they made big bucks. It's not serious, and I'm sure you'll find yourself warmly chuckling at it.
They sure loved to do rock/pop tributes, too ... nearly half the album consists of those. The track titled “Brian Wilson” is what ends up proving they had some real songwriting talent. It's so good that even Brian Wilson himself performed covers of it on stage. The clever lyrics are about a guy who fears that his life is mirroring Wilson's ... who, as it is well-documented, was a psychologically troubled fellow. “Be My Yoko Ono” is another fun tribute about man who's willing to give up everything to have his “Yoko Ono.” It's really very sweet. “New Kid (On the Block)” seems to be a tribute to all the manufactured pop stars whose lives are empty and fake. Really, these are wonderful lyrics. And this is coming from someone who rarely seems to care about them.
Of course, this album comes short of being entirely flawless. The two back-to-back ballads in the final half, “Blame it On Me” and “The Flag” are uninspired. And a few other songs leave me yearning for a bit more. When I originally calculated the album score, it was a clear 11. But it was close to a 12, and I figured it contains more than its fair share of memorable moments, so I bumped it up. After all, I don't run across too many albums that are this fun. To hell with the weak spots! Get it today!
Read the track reviews:
Maybe You Should Drive (1994)
Album Score: 10
First the bad news. If you enjoyed the dickens out of Gordon for its high energy and funny lyrics and you were looking for more of the same in their sophomore release, you're in for a disappointment. This is a different sort of album. Compare the album covers. The first was flashy, 3-D and colorful, and this one is black-and-white! (Although that is a goofy picture ... thank goodness.) Maybe You Should Drive is more of a pure excursion into the straight songwriting that basically exuberated on the style of “Brian Wilson.” Of course, I understand why they did that ... they probably didn't want to be known only as the dorks who write silly songs. And Brian Wilson himself liked the song, so that undoubtedly gave them encouragement to write a more sophisticated album.
And you know what? I think it was for the best anyway. All attempts at a Gordon, Pt. 2 probably would've backfired. There's no way in God's green muffins they would ever be able to recapture the humor and energy quite the same way, so any attempt to do so would've been seen as a pale imitation. They bottled lightning there, and it ain't happening again.
And it's not all bad news, anyway. There are still some pretty dang good songs here. They open the album with a ballad, of all things, named “Jane.” It tells us right away that those bouncy jazz-pop days of “Hello City” were over, and the sophisticates were ready to take over. And, it also tells us that wasn't a bad thing, because it's a formidable opener! It features a rather uplifting atmosphere and a good melody to boot. That's followed up by “Intermittently,” a flashier song that seems like a decent compromise between their mellow sophistication and the energetic goofs. What strikes me most about it is their knack of incorporating intermittent bits of bossa nova and tango into the mix with an almost flawless transitions between the parts. I'm always excited to hear a band do that so well.
“A” comes in the middle of the album, and it is easily the closest thing they have to emulating the charming goofy quality from Gordon. It comes with a bouncy melody and charming lyrics in which they whimsically play around with the letter A. It's a close call, but I'd say the album's best song comes next, and it's called “Everything Old is New Again.” It starts out with an excellent, thumping bass-line, which immediately captures my attention. Very gradually, an acoustic guitar and violin pipes up. The instrumentals keep gradually building up until, at the end, it sounds like it was wanting to turn into a John Phillip Sousa song. I wanted to give it an A+, but they repeat that cycle three times throughout, and it's never as good as it was the first time. They should have varied it up a bit. ...
After that, the album drops off, a bit. They give us “Alternative Girlfriend,” which would have worked well as a radio hit single, but it's strictly conventional and I'm not that captured by it. The back-to-back snoozers “Am I the Only One” and “Tiny Little Song” really slows things down, unfortunately. Those aren't repulsive songs as they are dreadfully boring. There's more proof these guys worked best as goofballs in an unconventional vocal pop band, and they're not really ones with the ability to sit down with an acoustic guitar and expect us to be captivated. “Life in a Nutshell” is fine, but it's so conventional that I tend to forget that it ever existed. “The Wrong Man Was Convicted” has its moments... it almost turned into a funny take on theatric Broadway styles, but in the end it was just a lost opportunity. And they close it with the not-too-exhilarating “The Great Provider,” which is a good song, but probably would have worked better on a Sarah McLachlan album. ...Come now, your Barenakedness, we didn't want you to turn into Sarah McLachlans!
These shortcomings are detrimental, but that doesn't otherwise tarnish The Barenaked Ladies' reputation as a crackerjack band (if you don't mind me using that term). They were trying so hard to sophisticate their sound that they seemed to lose what made them so endearing in the first place. I'm not demanding that they have act like goofballs, but I would have at least liked something more exciting! Fortunately they do get quite creative in a enough spots that I can recommend the album. If you think you might like it, then it is hereby recommended.
Read the track reviews:
Born on a Pirate Ship (1996)
Album Score: 8
I'd imagine many of the Ladynaked Bears fans who liked Maybe You Should Drive were disappointed with this. And certainly the fans who had long abandon them since Gordon had no reason to come back. Born on a Pirate Ship is an inconsistent and mediocre affair, and it only barely hints at the goofy and charming personalities that delighted us so much from Gordon. Maybe You Should Drive was a step toward them trying to be sophisticated songwriters, and this album was yet another step. Unfortunately, they hadn't developed any means to make their serious songwriting particularly interesting.
But, as it is with all mixed albums that I review, it has its moments. After all, I gave this album a decent overall rating, which would rightfully suggest there are a few songs that might be worthwhile purchasing as mp3s. “Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hank” is my pick for the album's best. It's an upbeat song with some gypsy-style violin that's thrown in for good measure. The melody is catchy and the beat is snappy. This is the classic Barenaked Ladies style, and casual fans who may have evaded this album should certainly hear it. “I Know” comes after, and it's another one of the album's successful songs (although I don't like it nearly as much). The instrumentation is certainly creative there with one part featuring some thunderous drums and another part going off on a psychedelic bit featuring some light percussive instruments and a slightly detached violin sound. It's not bad!
Even better and more creative than that is “I Live With it Every Day,” which is easily the second best work from the album. Those rhythms are so strange that you might think you accidentally turned on an obscure art-rock band. There, they bring in these intermittent sections featuring a catchy groove with rubbery synthesizers. Other sections are more normal, but the melody is very hooky ... which gives it good contrast. My only complaint about it is that slow piano ballad they put in the middle of it... without that I'm pretty sure I'd call this my favorite song from here. “Spider in My Room” is by no means a great song, but it's interesting to hear them try a crazy tribal-beat thingy. It seems a bit tame, though, when they should have went all-out-nuts with it. This is much like a saner and less atmospheric version of Kate Bush's “The Dreaming.”
And now for the lousy stuff. I spent plenty of room explaining how these guys were so great and writing bridges and transitions... “Stomach Vs. Heart” tries to do a similar thing, except it's scattershot at best. It has its formidable qualities, but it was a weak choice for the opener. It made me wonder why they couldn't have opened it with the much stronger candidate, “Straw Hat,” which comes after. “When I Fall” is another attempt at adult-contemporary, and it's a surefire flop. Not that it's a badly written song, but it's lifeless and boring. Someone like Sarah McLachlan, the type of person who normally sings songs like this, would have at least tried to orchestrate this. That dull acoustic guitar and wimpy violin we have in the background is not nearly enough. Well, either that, or you'd have to write a more interesting melody. “The Old Apartment” is a bit disappointing since it's an upbeat one, and it seems misfired. It trades back and forth between a loud and quiet part... the loud part is too loud and the singing is a bit annoying, and the quiet part doesn't seem to have any real purpose. That song's really flat. “Break Your Heart” is another serious ballad, and it's a real bore. ...And believe me, I'm one who tends to like ballads, and I say these guys just plum ain't good at 'em. Nothing is quite as bad as “Just a Toy,” though, which surprisingly isn't a ballad. It's a real headache featuring a droning groove, a too-loud drum beat and a melody that's badly written. Something like this might have worked as a bizarre psychedelic piece if they only gave it a creepy atmosphere... if they gave it any atmosphere at all.
This is a very spotty album. It definitely has its moments, but these awful bits were just enough to keep this from gaining my recommendation. Don't buy this album, except make sure that you don't miss “Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hand” and “I Live With it Everyday.” Those excellent songs are stuck in this sea of insincere ballads, failed experimentalism and generally boring songwriting.
Read the track reviews:
Rock Spectacle (1996)
Album Score: 9
These guys ought to be fun to hear live, right? I mean, Gordon was filled to the brim with vivid energy that they must've been only biding their time to go on the stage and start going crazier than they ever have before........ Those over-extended ellipses tell us that I'm just pulling your leg. This a shockingly dull and lifeless testament to the Ladies' live shows. The biggest problem with it is they tend to thrive the best when their sound is crisp and clean, and this live album sounds loose and sloppy. Either they didn't practice much, or they weren't great instrumentalists to begin with and benefited greatly from picky sound engineers and multiple takes.
Apart from a few choices, there is a nice spread of their good material here. They open it with one of the best songs, “Brian Wilson.” You can tell that the audience wanted to hear it too, because you can quite clearly hear a sing-along. It's a nice experience, and you can join in the fun if you're that goofy sort of person! But give me the superior sound and instrumental quality from the original on Gordon anytime. They do their best to up its rock 'n' roll quality, but quite a bit of the original's spark was lost.
I was disappointed over their redux of “If I Had $1,000,000.” It's something of an anomaly. The original sounded so fresh and like it was made up on the spot. For the most part, they just regurgitate the lyrics without any of that inspired spontaneity ... They do end up making up a few on-the-spot lyrics, but they're bizarre and nonsensical (if you're willing to stick around to hear the “hidden track,” they'll give you the thoroughly uninteresting back story). At one point, one guy blanks out. Come on, I thought these guys would be wittier and more on-their-toes! ... I guess they are nerds.
Despite what I said up there, I think there was one slight improvement with “Hello City,” the spritey opener for Gordon. Though I might be one of the few who says so, I prefer that accordion sound to that cool, clear trumpet from the original. Yeah... they got rid of the trumpet possibly because nobody touring on them knew how to play it. I won't let them off the hook for that, because live trumpet solos can be awesome... but if you're expecting these guys to go off on rambly, awesome solos then you'll be vastly disappointed.
A had a few qualms with some of their song selections. I groaned most profusely because I had to listen to “Break Your Heart” once again with that incessantly dizzying “throat call” in the middle of it. The audience applauded just because he was making noise, but I really hate it. “When I Fall” is just as boring as the studio cut --- no surprise.
There's no need to mention the other songs... I think you have the gist of it. If you're a huge Barenaked Ladies fan, then you're the only type of person who'd appreciate it. If you have the studio albums and you couldn't care less for them, then you'll probably even care less for this. (All that said, I'm contradicting what someone wrote on Wikipedia... Reportedly, this album helped this group garner a much larger fan base than before. Take that statement with a grain of salt, and only listen what I have to say about it!)
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 10
I'm not willing to call a return-to-form like so many listeners might be tempted to. While this is clearly their best album since Gordon and it tends to favors the sassy songwriting that was ever-present in that classic, Stunt is nothing like Gordon. It just doesn't give me nearly the same giddy I remember from that previous experience.
But let's not let those comparisons ruin what was otherwise an enjoyable album! It starts with the hyperactive “One Week.” It contains their best attempts at rapping, and they sound as cool as a bunch of white Canadians raised in suburban middle-class neighborhoods possibly could. What strikes me most about it is how much fun it is, and it's unhindered by such things as serious ambitions. Very cool. The following track is surprisingly even better. “It's All Been Done” is another upbeat, colorful song with some of their brightest and most memorable melodies. The third track is even wonderful, a ballad this time with a decent melody and some space-age sound effects giving us some light textures in the background. These first three songs are smart and enjoyable. Right away, the makings of an intelligent album.
They don't deliver the album's real gem until “Alcohol,” which is one of the most amazing songs they've ever done. The melody is bold and upbeat, like in their good old style. But the melody is among the catchiest, and I love how they are continuously change the textures there ... even in the middle having someone play a drunkard barroom piano while having some sort of chugging contest. I have never drank alcohol and I don't really identify with this, but it's a fun song. Anyone could identify with that!
And the unexpected surprise of the album comes next. “Call and Answer” contains some of the most remarkable developmental ideas that I've heard in one of their albums. It doesn't start up too eventful, but they subtly layer on new sounds and more new sounds that it ends rather glorious. That's a wonderfully creative and nearly glorious song. Certainly, that's one if their serious songs that would have appeared more comfortably on Born on a Pirate Ship and not Gordon, but it's done right and that's where it counts.
After that, the album really begins to taper off, I'm afraid. Although I'd certainly categorize the last half as “mildly” entertaining. Even in the boring bits, they bring us some fine, smart songwriting, but they are most commonly inhibited by a dull melodic idea or not-creative-enough ideas with the arrangements. What it's missing is the sheer inspiration that such an album truly needs to stand out and be wonderful. Despite that, these words shouldn't be enough to put you off in checking it out if you have an even vague interest in it. I think the highlights were more than enough to make the album worthwhile and, while I ultimately decided on awarding this a “10,” even though it was on the border of an “11.”
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 10
Need I say it again? It was a smart idea for The Barenaked Ladies to leave behind all that adult-contemporary nonsense they tried pawning off on us in the mid-'90s, and going for more of the upbeat, novelty schtick that made them famous in the first place. Stunt was the first of this revitalized mentality, and Maroon is the dutiful follow-up. While this is by no means a great album, it's an overall enjoyable product. Unfortunately just like the previous album, I get the feeling they were just going through the motions. None of this even approaches Gordon's freshness.
That's more evident than ever right in the album opener, “Too Little Too Late.” Sure, it's upbeat and sparkly clean, but it's stiff, and the Ladies seem all-too-distant. It's like they're playing to us behind a glass wall instead of right in front of us in our living rooms. Sure, a band can be enjoyable behind a glass wall, but not as heartwarming. “Never Do Anything” is a notable highlight. That indicates they were at least willing to experiment with in the studio. They begin the track with an unusual and appealing texture, and in the middle they bring in “cocktail party” sound effects. None of this is particularly innovative, but it's creative enough to keep it interesting. Similar pangs of creativity make many of these other songs from becoming dull. In fact, they do a good enough job of this to keep me from awarding anything less than a B- for most of the tracks. It's their saving grace!
Easily the highlight of the album is “Go Home,” a simple and unpretentious song that uncannily reminds me of the Lovin' Spoonful. (My policy toward any song that tries to channel the Lovin' Spoonful is to like them!) Not too far behind that one in quality is “Sell, Sell, Sell,” a piece of melodramatic musical theater. They go a bit too far with those instrumentals, which is so busy in places that it gets muddled, but that chorus really hits home. Give them some kudos for trying out bossa nova with “Conventioneers.” They were always ones to try out new styles of music, but in that case it's nothing memorable. It's just *nice*. Who wants *nice*?
The album drags at the end, which raises the question why they couldn't have found room to cut this album by ten minutes? Fifty-two minutes is not that excessive, but I'd prefer a trimmer 40-minutes! “Helicopters” isn't so much bad, but it's terribly uninspired and consists of mere retreads of the Ladies' same old shtick. What really made it go under was that weirdly misfired “rock jam” at the end where they seemed to flood it with aimless noise. The real snoozer comes at the very end with a nine-minute suite that never gets interesting. The last half seemed like a weak stab at John Lennon ballads, except it's cold, pale and emotionless through and through. That's not like good ole Lennon, dang it!
I used to like Maroon a lot more than I do now. I once even liked it so much that I called it better than Gordon. God knows why! All this album really has to show for it is a ton of mediocre melodies put to some occasionally very creative arrangements. Sure, it's a pleasant album to sit through and there aren't any moments that aren't *entertaining*. It's for that reason the album deserves a fairly high score. It does its dutiful job pleasing their die-hard fans, but I find too little of this this riveting.
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Everything to Everyone (2003)
Album Score: 11
This album has grown on me something fierce over the past few years. I don't know why, but I originally gave this a lightly negative review, accusing it of being mediocre. I listen to it today and ... geez, I don't understand how I could have done this. This is quite easily their finest bunch of compositions since Gordon. I was smoking the punk-weed.
The Barenaked Ladies are so good at writing these quirky songs that whenever they sit down and write something normal, I feel utterly betrayed. Any album with a song like “Shopping” in it, a upbeat, bright number that nods the “Barbie Girl” sort of pop song, with some highly creative moments and points of contrast. It's both a novelty song for its overly cheeky approach to the subject matter (shopping!!) and a seriously good composition, too. The melody is catchy as hell, and well developed (i.e. They don't just write one hook, one mood or one texture and just repeat the freaking thing for three minutes. They actually DEVELOP the song.) Great moments such as these, my friends, is what good songwriting will bring you. Of course, the quirky edge is what gives it personality. I am desperately in love with this song!
Give them another cookie for “Celebrity,” a sweet sincere sounding tribute to the State of Celebrity. I can't imagine anyone not calling this one of their finest compositions ever. Right up there with the quality of “Brian Wilson” (as difficult as that song is to top). I wouldn't call it quirky, but it's bold, bright and makes an utterly fantastic listen. That's followed up by the weirder “Maybe Katie,” which has the crunchingest electric guitars of any Barenaked Ladies song I've ever heard. That's probably their best pop-rock song. Ever since Stunt, they found the time to include one of their goofy rap songs --- this time, it's “Another Postcard.” As usual, it's their brand of “raised in white suburbia” style of rap, which suits their sound perfectly. They change the textures around quite a bit, which helps me enjoy it, and I like all of those rubbery synthesizers they use to pepper it up.“Upside Down” starts with a string quartet! Classical purists will think it's dumb, but it only lasts 20 seconds and reminds me of the intro to the Legend of Zelda Theme song. So, it can't be bad. But after that's through playing, they start playing what sounds like a mentally insane tango! It's fantastic fun. Whenever they find the reason to take out the accordion, I can always feel like I'm at home!
And there aren't any bad songs on here! My only complaints are the songs that don't really have any personality to them. I'm very disappointed that they chose to end it with “Have You Seen My Love?” Sure, it's a well-written ballad, but “well-written” is just a polite term for “not-too-interesting.” I do like it, but I think they could have ended it with something more distinctive. “Testing 1,2,3” is just as “well-written.” It starts out strangely, but it quickly progresses into a normal pop-rock song. Albeit, it's way too good to snub, of course. It just seems like a bit of a lost opportunity.
I am overwhelmingly pleased with this album, and I apologize for my previous review of it. As I said, I was smoking the punk-weed. This is as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. ...Ew, on second thought, monkeys smell. They don't take baths. Scratch that. Well, Everything to Everyone is fun anyway.
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Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006)
Album Score: 10
Some have touted this as the return of Gordon. I'm not convinced of that at all. But when it comes right down to it, that has been touted by every new Barenaked Ladies album ever since Stunt. While this is a formidable release and certainly far from being the worst album the Barenaked Ladies have put out, it shows them in a plastic void. This album reeks of squeaky clean professionalism. It's devoid of inspiration and bears the marks that they've been writing and performing music for too long.
You could probably win the argument that Barenaked Ladies Are Me is better than their sophomore release Maybe You Should Drive. As clumsy as that album was, they at least came off as error-prone humans. This release, on the other hand, is far too perfect. It's more the product of a machine than it is man... The Barenaked Ladies know exactly how to write a Barenaked Ladies song. They know exactly how to orchestrate it, and they know to sing it. In other words, this thing is predictable as hell.
But it is well-written, and they deserve due credit for that. People who live and breathe on this '00s indie stuff have likely found this to be a tasty treat. The melodies are OK, and the instrumentation is well-developed. What I'm missing is the presence of a track that gives me a giddy feeling... Have they forgotten how to do that? They did that a few times on Everything to Everyone. They open the album with a song as pleasant as any. “Adrift” is very simplistic, but it is rather captivating. Hypnotic guitars and a banjo provide the texture. And they sing sweet little melody with it. “Bank Job” is a little more involved, but not nearly as arresting. They seem to know exactly what to do, instrumentally, to keep the ears engaged, but somehow I'm just not completely buying it. “Easy” is a good song with a nice pace and a good chord progression with some soothing back-up vocals. It's a little more memorable than the others, which makes it one of the album's highlights.
“Home” is the only track that has any creativity to speak of. It starts out as a usual ballad, but they spontaneously turn it into a somewhat unrelated baroque-pop song. That part only lasts for a few dozen seconds, but the way it caught me off-guard reminds me of how well they used to do that in their '90s albums. However, “Bull in a China Shop” barely wins my vote as the best song of the album. It has the catchiest melody of the bunch, and a good melody trumps everything!
The last half of the album is completely listenable and even enjoyable in the right contexts, but it contains no surprises. I got bored writing the track reviews, frankly. Historically speaking, this album is a new leaf for the band. They left their longtime record label and started their own... So the Barenaked Ladies are now, officially, an indie band! It's strange that it resulted in such a strait-laced, unambitious album that my grandparents would probably like.
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Barenaked Ladies Are Men (2007)
Album Score: 9
Their last album was called Barenaked Ladies Are Me, and this one is called Barenaked Ladies Are Men. Looking at both their album covers, they're difficult to tell apart unless you closely study them. And reading on the world's most trusted news source, Wikipedia, the material stemmed from the exact same sessions! ... Between the albums, they recorded a grand total of 29 songs. Sorry to sound so negative, but don't you think it would've been better to concentrate your powers to creating 14 good songs instead of 29 of them that reek of mediocrity? I'm just saying... Quality before quantity. That's all I ask.
But nah... of course they just come out with all sorts of plasticy songs for me to sit through. As a whole, these songs just lack substance. Each are ultra-polished and done in that exact sort of way a tired old rock band would sound like when it's trying to imitate itself. Though much of this material is well-written, which you cannot deny. Of course, “well-written” is often just a nice term for “boring” and “shallow.” Though there are the nice aspects to this album, and there are a handful of these transgresses the dominating zombie-like drone and actually flower a bit. “Something You'll Never Find” is a tremendously upbeat ditty that's slightly reminiscent of a show tune! Albeit, it's a cheapish show tune, and I would rather have heard them develop it into something more intricate and ear dazzling. But what they have is quite nice. A lively drum and a nice chord progression does the song well.
“Angry People” is a nice throwback to Burt Bacharach ditties from the '60s. A very lightweight song with a shuffley rhythm and a sweetly sung melody line. But the one thing that characterized Bacharach is woefully lacking: That uncanny ability to stick around in your mind after it's done playing. As I'm typing this, a few minutes or so after having listened to it, I have no idea what that melody sounded like. “Running Out of Ink” is a rather ordinary Barenaked Ladiesian bouncy pop rocker, but they suddenly start sining an operatic aria! That's the sort of nutty thing they used to do in their earlier albums, and the transition to that part isn't quite as bad as you'd think. But there's still a certain amount of spark absent from that song. While I like the idea of it, listening to it didn't make me giddy! They do a similar thing with “Fun & Games” when, out of the blue, they start playing a jazz/skiffle song. But that transition was even more sudden.
Anyone who got a version of Barenaked Ladies Are Me might be surprised to know that their bonus tracks actually appear as regular tracks in this album. Though both “Quality” and “Another Spin” ended up being some of the better songs here, and I didn't particularly mind hearing them again. They're both bright, semi-forgettable ditties. It fits in well!
I didn't actually score any of the track reviews anything below a C-, but there was only one track in the A-range. They had a higher concentration of better material on Barenaked Ladies Are Me, but both albums are of roughly the same quality. The title for the worst song on the album is a two-way tie between “Half a Heart” and “One and Only.” They're both completely uninteresting adult contemporary ballads. And there's little worse than a completely uninteresting adult contemporary ballad.
So, this album goes in the not-recommended category for sounding being so boring an unremarkable. I hope they take some time to develop material for their next album instead of just releasing another album of half-baked clones... But it seems that they would rather be prolific than memorable, and that's a shame.
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Album Score: 11
I was doing a fair amount of complaining in my Are Me and Are Men reviews that Barenaked Ladies have grown too samey and complacent. They didn't seem to be that interesting nor excited about developing their songwriting and trying out new things. Both of those albums were boring. Luckily, they addressed that very issue in this album. They go down the same route that They Might Be Giants went before them and released a kid's album full of silly and goofy novelty songs. ... Though I think probably young adults listened to this album more than the kids, because most of them are still adolescents at heart (myself included). The lyrical matter can sometimes go above kids' heads, but that's probably not an issue. I just think a lot of parents might have reservations about giving their kids something with the words “Barenaked Ladies” printed on it.
But anyway, I'm not a parent, so what do I care about that? What I care about is that this is easily their most diverse album ever, which is a fact I celebrate most enthusiastically! (I did a few handstands in the bathroom this morning.) They manage to cram 24 tracks into a span of only 54 minutes (many of them are just a minute long), and they explore all types of genres. It's very hit-or-miss, though, and it was a close call between a 10 and 11, leaning toward a 10. But the diversity aspect of it prompted me to go ahead with the higher rating.
Let's talk about the hits. They get the mood going on a very positive note with “7 8 9,” a musical version of that cheesy joke that people around the ages of 7 find so hilarious. (“1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10.” “What happened to 9?” “7 8 9.”) Any kid that happens to be listening will probably find the song funny... their parents will probably find it cute. I like the playful vocal delivery and that out-of-tune accordion. “Pollywog in a Bog” is a very enjoyable piece of fluff with a catchy melody and some of the sweetest lyrics they ever came up with... and it's probably the only “frog reggae” in existence that I would have even the remotest possibility of liking. I don't think you have to be a kid to fully appreciate that silly voice.
“Eraser” is kind of a funny nod to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It has the goofy operatics, although the lyrics are just about an eraser. “Popcorn” is also operatic, and one of my favorites. It's quite a cute tribute to popcoooooooooorn! My personal favorite of the album is “Drawing” that reminds me of what I used to watch on TV when I was very, very young. It's an incredibly '80s sounding song with corny, cheap synthesizers and drum machines. The melody is incredibly goofy, and the singer tries to sound like Elvis except he comes off like he's being electrocuted. ...It's really funny. The lyrics even manages to imitate those sorts of '80s kids songs ... expressing to us the wonders of drawing and the power our imaginations. And to think I used to believe that stuff!
“Allergies” is another fun song... this one about a common childhood ailment. (Adults can still have bad allergies, but it's somehow much more unbearable when you're a kid.) “What a Wild Tune” is also delight and it's especially quirky. It doesn't actually gain much momentum, but I like that they were thinking out of the box for that one. They end the album with a very majestic tribute to Canadian geese. It's not really a kids' tune... it's just a good song, which is more than those buggers ever deserved.
I don't think it's a particularly great track, but the first part of “The Canadian Snacktime Trilogy” is notable because they get a lot of celebrities (and some of the band members' kids) on the microphone to tell us their favorite snacks. It's massively pointless, but somehow charming. And I can't say it has devalued my life now that I know Geddy Lee likes to eat barbecue potato chips. “Vegetable Town” has some of my favorite lyrics on the album, also churning up some memories of those old kid infomercials we'd watch in school that tried to make us like vegetables. Though it's such a lifeless song... and the melody is average. Eh! One reason I was hesitant to award this album an 11 is because too many of these songs were just as tastefully dull as they were on Are Me / Are Men. And, otherwise, this “kids album” approach gave them too much of an excuse to write a bunch of generic melodies. Though the idea to keep these songs short, short, short generally worked well in its favor. A lot of them only had enough ideas for a short song, and only a small handful of these songs actually seemed *too* short. So, in the end, I think going a kiddie route will has saved them a bit!
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All in Good Time (2010)
Album Score: 10
One of Barenaked Ladies' principal songwriters, Steven Page, had left the band in 2009 to pursue a solo career, which left our favorite Canadian novelty act as a quartet. Still determined to continue on as a group, they created All in Good Time, which sounds nothing like their previous album, Snacktime!. Rather, this is more like the mature adult-contemporary of Maybe You Should Drive. Like that album, pretty much everything here is well-written and generally enjoyable, but unfortunately, it doesn't seem to give me a whole lot of memorable experiences to take away from it.
Ed Robertson, who had composed most of the material for previous releases with Page, ends up writing most of these songs alone. However, my favorite two pieces from this album were ones that other members had contributed. “Another Heartbreak” is an impressively adventurous ballad by Kevin Hearn that starts out simply with a sweet piano before adding on layers of fuzz guitar and thunderous drums. My only complaint about it is the melody is awfully repetitive... but somehow that doesn't seem to be a big concern for me considering all that's going on with the instrumentation. Jim Creegan, the bassist, wrote “I Saw It,” which features a pulsating bass, twinkly and watery lead guitars, ethereal synth-strings, and an earnest vocal performance. It's the sort of song you might want to listen to while you're gazing at the stars. ...I would like to take this moment to say that bassists should write more songs, because they actually put BASS in their songs that POP OUT AT YOU. Even just a pulsating one goes a long way.
I'm nearly horrified by the album's opening number, “You Run Away,” with its instrumentation that is so polished that it's sterile and a melody that does absolutely nothing for me. Particularly when they get to the toothless chorus, it sounds exactly like one of those boring songs that a lot of my Christian friends used to subject me to all the time (torture). But if you manage to make it through that song, you'll immediately get to “Summertime,” which is very enjoyable and reminiscent of their novelty-pop past. The verses section consists of some rhythmic, buzzy guitars before yielding to a completely different chorus, which reminds me of classic '70s soul music. The transition between these two sections is surprisingly flawless.
They try very hard to revisit their quirky past with the cabaret ditty “Four Seconds,” which sounds exactly like a Real Tuesday Weld song. For sure, it's a fun thing to listen to, but why don't I get its melody stuck in my head? It seems that songs like this ought to linger in my head long after they're through playing, but it's outta my head the moment the next song comes. And that next song is “On the Lookout,” which is also quite good with its bouncy piano riff and an array of silly, screetchy synthesizers providing sound effects, but it also seems to be lacking inspiration.
I only mentioned the five songs that stuck out at me in any particular way while I was making my cursory listens of this album. The rest of everything else is generally well-written and professionally performed. Sometimes the songs veer toward tedium, but other times they veer toward something more exciting. They stick pretty much to standard instrumentation, so there's nothing terribly creative about them to warrant a mention in the main body in this review.
As a whole, this album is certainly fresher and more well-constructed than their Are Me/Men series, which is a great thing. But unfortunately, there is very little in here that's inspired. I get the impression that they were just going through the motions. And I say, that is just not good enough! I want an album that's trying to solve the mysteries of the universe! (Or at least more songs like “Shopping” that at least addresses the fascination some people have with going to the mall for hours poking in and out of shops... which has been a confounding mystery I've had for quite some time.) It's clear they put a ton of work into this ordinary album, and I'm comfortable deeming it as ordinarily good. So, I will recommend it to everyone who doesn't think there are enough ordinarily good albums out there on the planet. (Anyone?) On a more positive note, at least I can report that the band is faring quite well without Steven Page.
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