Thursday, September 21, 2006

Barenaked Ladies Are MEN

Well, if you've stuck with me for this long you must be a glutton for punishment.

Here we go with the second part of my wordy and mostly worthless review of the "Barenaked Ladies" new album. "Barenaked Ladies Are Me."

Or rather, the second part of this album, which is online now, but will be released in a physical CD form next year, is called "Barenaked Ladies Are Men." Yes, it's wacky wordplay, BNL style. Accompanied by a wacky release of the record in two parts.

This album in total has 29 songs, they are releasing it all at once if you pre-ordered on I-Tunes. If you missed it, you can still get a 27 track deluxe version. Elsewhere on-line there are various versions, a 15 track version, a 25 track version, and others.

In record stores you can only buy a 13 track album. The physical CD, the second part of the record (with 12 songs) will be available in early 2007.

Confused? Me too. I didn't even realize that by pre-ordering I got two extra tracks that will pretty much be unavailable now, save for a USB stick that is being sold at shows and at their fan club website that has all 29 songs plus other multi-media.

Bottom line, last week I reviewed the 13 track first part, here is the 12 track second part. They could have made this easier to grasp.

"Barenaked Ladies Are Men" is even better than "Barenaked Ladies Are Me." It has a great mix of up-tempo and more melancholy tunes. Starting off with a Kevin Hearn mellow-fest, "Serendipity." Probably one of my least favorite tracks of them all, this song still has a groovy (albeit a bit repetitive) chorus. It's nice to break up the songs with different noises, and in that respect this track delivers.

Next is a kick butt song, "Something You'll Never Find", and it's one of my favorites. A rocking blaster with great retro 70's rock hooks and fantastic trumpet work. Let me take a moment to just say - for a bunch of guys who are all married (except Jim I think) and mostly all have kids, the songs certainly seem to be all about a lot of screwy relationships with various different women. This either means they are recalling their past, they have very active imaginations and/or their marriages are very complex. Not good or bad, I'm just sayin' is all.

Next up is probably the most musically lovely and romantic track - "One and Only". Now lyric wise, who knows. It seems mostly sincere, but there are stabs here and there that seem to be the usual irony laced barbs typical of BNL.

Speaking of irony, ready for good times at the expense of others? Then cue up "Angry People" and enjoy perfectly sardonic BNL taking the piss out of the rage filled morons of the world. This one is destined to be a classic at live shows and on peoples i-pod play lists. Great, great song.

The perfectly crafted pop/rock song of "BNL Are Men" is "Down To Earth" which has just the right amount of hard guitars and exquisite rhythm to get you dancing and super silly. It seems to be about, gasp in shock, a girl - who is young and gorgeous and has a train wreck of a personality. Nice.

If you are suspicious of "One and Only" being a bit sarcastic, then the track "Beautiful" is definitively so. I can't remember a more viciously condescending song from BNL, but again the music is just so gorgeous - you don't even realize you're listening to a bitter 35 year old trying to take power back from a stunning 20 something.

Next is probably the song that will be most remembered from all of BLAMen, "Running out of Ink" A great upbeat jam, a bit reminiscent of the energy level from "Upside Down" on BNL's last record. Lyrically, this is very self-referential in a clever and biting way. Funny stuff.

Ed Robertson makes it a perfect trilogy of beautiful ballads with bite on "BLN Are Men" with the track "Half a Heart". I haven't nailed down what he's trying to say yet, but I can gather it's another perfect mixture of longing, angst and anger bubbling out of a gorgeous and romantic arrangement of guitars and harmony. Like most of BNL's work, this song has an amazing bridge that is pure candy to the ears.

This next might be my favorite of all 29 (did I already say that about another song?) "Maybe Not" sounds like Journey meets, well, BNL; complete with cheesy hand claps and wah-wah pedals. Love the intro, love the power chords, love the whole dern thing.

While the previous track might be my most favorite, this next one "I Can I Will I Do" might be my least. It's the only song I skip, besides "Easy" which I skip because I've been listening to it for months. I get what they're doing here, it's a bit Al Green, a bit lounge singerish, a bit cheesy and spiteful. Similar to "Conventioneers" in mood, I am just not the biggest fan of stoner funk groove sarcasm. It works well to break up the record, because it sounds so different, but I'm thankful that BNL only does this on occasion.

Almost done with the second half of their opus, BNL hits hard with "Fun and Games". Where "Take It Back" was a heartbreakingly serious look at 9/11 with a perfect mix of feelings and facts, "Fun and Games" is a straight ahead condemnation of very specific people and incidents - that uses humor as it's deadly weapon. If you read this blog at all, you know I am decidedly pro-war on terror. This song makes an unmistakable statement against all of it, and I still think it is a GREAT song. It is so well done, including a mind blowing interlude that degenerates into a dixie land ragtime circus, that I can overlook the misguided intentions and really appreciate the work and humor that make this song fly. Contrary to what you might think if you read my rants, I abhor war, it's ugliness and brutality. There is nothing remotely appealing about it, and in that this song and I are in complete agreement.

Finally, the album comes to a gentle close with "The New Sad", an ironic song about- irony. Appropriate for BNL to say the least. Again, the melody is divine, and Steven's voice strikes just the right mix of soothing tones and playful crooning. Well done BNL.

But wait! There's more! Four bonus tracks! The first two are still available, if you get the music online, the second two were only found on the i-tunes pre-order for the deluxe edition (and now only on the USB stick sold at shows and at the fan club.)

"Quality" is an upbeat ditty that to my ears sounds too similar musically to "Fun and Games". Believe it or not, even I have a threshold for songs that are too much pop, and this song actually crosses over it a bit. Very sing songy and repetitive, it's not one that I would miss. (Wow, did I just diss that song?)

"Another Spin" is Kevin Hearn trying to rock out. He succeeds to a point, better than previous upbeat efforts, but this is still b-side material. Even so, I enjoy the horns and harmonies quite a lot, as usual BNL makes them sound effortless.

"What A Letdown" is a song that I think has been around for awhile, having been played live in many shows. It is a great power rock song, in the vein of "The Old Apartment" for it's thumping bass groove and guitar pounding. Definitely could have been included on the record, but it's cool to have such a strong song as one that fans need to dig a bit to find.

"Why Say Anything Nice" is a song that is sort of, not like anything BNL has ever done before. It reminds me a bit of Billy Joel's horn heavy songs ("Easy Money" or "When In Rome"). I can see why this song was left off as one that wouldn't fit, but it is still a joyous bar band rocker. The "Tower of Power" like horn stabs make it fun and rambunctious. I wouldn't mind at all if BNL's next record continued in this direction (though it has been a death knell for other groups, such as "Huey Lewis" or even "10,000 Maniacs")

Well there it is. That's all. If you're still here, I have only one thing to say...

You don't get out often enough.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


"Barenaked Ladies Are Me" is the new album, BLAM for short.

The short version of my review; it's awesome.

For part one of the the long, long version, read on.

First, I love the title. Anyone who listens to BNL for more than a minute knows that they are all about word play. The Barenaked Ladies Army in this case I'm guessing, refers to the fans. There was another army in the 1970's, the "Kiss" Army, a legion of devoted fans who worshipped the make-up glam metal act Kiss and propelled them into the stratosphere of arena rock.

BNL are at a similar crossroads now in their career, meaning that, devoted fans are the only ones who will keep them going strong commercially - since fickle (okay, corrupt) radio has apparently decided to not play their stuff. The shows will sell out, and the record will probably go platinum, because the Army is out in force.

And in this way, the album is very much for the fans. First of all, it is a double album. Two parts, 29 songs. That alone is more than enough to put off a casual listener.

Granted, there are multiple ways to buy the record - in stores only part 1 is available, 13 songs in all. But there are various permutations to down load online, with different tracks labeled as "bonus" and "extra." As a true blue fan, at the end of the day, the only version to buy is the Deluxe Edition on I-Tunes with both albums and 29 songs.

This record is BNL's magnum opus, the White Album, in every way. Generally I am against the "unfiltered" approach. We've all had to suffer through Prince releasing EVERY SINGLE SONG he has ever done, EVER. With the exception of musical Gods like the Beatles or well, the Beatles, I think music artists should edit, shave down and polish their records to a high sheen of only the best tracks in the best order.

But sometimes the whole picture can really work, and that's the case here. This record is a big ol' package of love to the fans from every angle; starting with a heavy web presence describing in utmost detail it's creation. has lots of info and the band has been very active in responding to fans in this forum. If you look back through the archives you'll find a pretty complete sense of their day to day lives while the record was being made.

Even more detailed are the free BNL podcasts on I-Tunes. There are currently 29 podcast entries ranging from 10 to 20 minutes each of Ed and Steve (and occasionally others) talking about all manner of things, but generally focusing on describing the making of BLAM. A truly awesome window into the world of making a professional record - a must for any uber-fan like me.

Genius really, to hook the fans and get us invested in the album months before it's release. In a very real way I have become attached to this record like no other before. I have heard it's growing pains almost from the beginning, and I have found myself devoted to it in a similar way (though much less intense I'm sure) as the band itself.

Having shared so much with the fans probably has something to do with the fact that BNL are releasing this album for the first time from their own label. (With the exception of last years Christmas album.) That means, they finally have complete creative control over the content of the record. It's a bit daunting, I imagine, but the disc sounds just as polished and professional as their previous works.

Alrighty then, let's start with the songs. If you're not going to get the record, you might as well skip the rest of this. I'm writing here just to articulate my rather strong thoughts and feelings; indulgent and silly I know, but then - that's the whole blog thing ain't it. Ridiculous self-important arm chair critics, we have all become.

First off is a beautiful slow tune "Adrift". Now if this was a short, or even standard length record, I'd say it would be a mistake to lead off with such a sleepy song. But "Adrift" works it's magic well and gets us warmed up for the long journey ahead. It's dreamy, and typically BNL with very cryptic lyrics. ("You're an abacus." Huh?)

Just so you know, for the most part I'm not even going to try and pretend to know what the guys were thinking when they wrote these songs. So as far as lyrics go, you're pretty much on your own. I'll give you my own personal take about the words on occasion, but don't presume to think I know what I'm talking about.

Next up is the achingly sublime and silly "Bank Job" which tells in fine first person story form, the details of a heist gone wrong. Again, this isn't the most rocking tune, but it picks up the pace a bit from the last song - and has a lovely hook rich with harmonies.

Let me just say at this point, that I never realized what a HUGE influence the Beach Boys have been to BNL. I've always known they were there, but on this record - it is so obvious that Brian Wilson and co. have made a tremendous impact on these Canadian boys.

I'm ready to rock out by now, and thankfully, "Sound of Your Voice" delivers. This is classic BNL angst music. A sweet and nostalgic upbeat package of 50's style music with a bitter center of lyrical cynicism and sharp humor. Plus it's the first time that Steve Page sings.

Next is the first single "Easy", back to Ed on lead vocals. This is a song that I've listened to over and over since it was released almost 2 months ago. Needless to say, I've burned out on it. But it is great, and certainly a fine choice for individual release. Reminds me of "Ventura Highway" a bit. An ideal song for driving.

After this upbeat tune comes the albums first real ballad, the Steven Page penned "Home." I haven't really zeroed in on the lyrics yet, but first impressions are that it's another "I don't know how to tell you how I feel so I'll be vague and ironic" love song from Mr. Page. It has a lovely and haunting melody, plus plenty of great crooning that Steve does so well.

Then we come to what could either be the end of the first side (yes, I'm old school) or the start of the second. "Bull In a China Shop" is vintage BNL, up beat and breezy, a bit jangly, with a killer chorus and bridge. This is the albums first genuine toe tapping, dance until you're silly, romp of a song. Again, the despondent lyrics contrast the pretty packaging, but they can't keep this song down. It's my favorite on the first part of BLAM.

Then BNL shift gears abruptly with the stoic "Everything Had Changed". This song displays the musical expertise and craftsmanship of the group. A deceptively simple and slow tune with a fantastic otherworldly old-tyme sound of grinding accordions and banjos. I hate to use the word "haunting" again, but it applies here. This is definitely more "O' Brother Where Art Thou" than "Gordon".

Then Jim Creegan, the bass player, steps in with a tune of his own to sing. "Peterborough and the Kawarthas" is probably the most listenable song he's ever delivered on a BNL record; a sweet and mellow ditty that rolls off of his tongue and into our ears. Very sentimental, very romantic. Probably the most sincere track on the album.

"Maybe You're Right" sounds like the Dixie Chicks new record, in that it starts small and quiet and ends huge and bombastic. Even better than the Chicks, BNL has horns! This song is way epic, clearly the signature song of BLAM pt. 1.

"Take It Back" is so far BNL's most political offering, dealing pretty much directly with the fall out of 9-11. Some might say they are casting stones, but to my ears the song sounds more like a sober reflection of the pain more than a spell it out condemnation of anything or anyone in particular. Musically this might be one of their best ever. I just can't get the melody out of my head. If "Maybe You're Right" is the centerpiece of BLAM pt. 1, then "Take It Back" is an amazing follow up number 2 punch to the gut.

After getting bludgeoned a bit, Kevin Hearn quiets it down with "Vanishing" a typically spacey offering from the gentle genius. Talk about haunting, this guy wrote the book. I love his voice, even if it isn't close to the technical skills of Steve or for that matter Ed and Jim.

"Rule the World With Love" is vintage acidic BNL. A great big sarcastic F-you to the screwed up planet we live on - again, delivered as an upbeat dessert cart of fun sounds. I love the "Benefit of Mr. Kyte" like sounds in the chorus; yes, this is a circus and we're all covered in it.

"Wind it Up" is the blasting rocker that probably many fans were looking for since this record started. It features blistering guitar work and bombastic power chords. A great way to wind up the "physical CD", aka "Barenaked Ladies Are Me."

Stay tuned for part 2 when I tackle the "Barenaked Ladies Are MEN" portion of the new album. (Yes, I will explain.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Best Band Ever

I grew up listening to the Beatles, Billy Joel, Carol King, Jimmy Buffett and other singer/songwriter types. The emphasis was always on craftsmanship and skill, melody begat harmony which gave a warm comfy cozy feast for the ears. The abrasive guitars and mistake-filled jangle of metal acts of the time, Led Zepplin, AC/DC, etc. were lost on me. I didn't like the noise that pounded my head, clearly these were inferior musicians.

In hindsight, that last statement is probably not true. But what is true is my love for the melody and rhythm that only pop music can deliver endures. Thankfully there is a band today which speaks to the very best stuff of the aforementioned singer/songwriters, and yet still has a rocking edge that recalls groups like the Who, Rush and other "harder" acts. This band is my absolute favorite of all time, five Canadians guys who share my musical sensibilities and my askew sense of humor. Barenaked Ladies.

Their commercial career has been fairly successful, with top ten singles and albums, including a number one song "One Week" that was played endlessly in the summer of 1999. They were big in Canada for years before finally making it here in the US with that song and the accompanying album.

And yet, in the bigger picture, they are a band that has a tremendous core group of fans (ala' Grateful Dead or Dave Matthew's Band) that guarantees financial viability for them over the years, even when their music has faded from the radio airwaves. Their fans buy the albums, and they love the shows. Boy do they love the shows.

Barenaked Ladies live are something to behold. The show is a shared experience a fair cut above most rock acts. They improvise complete songs, they dance in synch, and the set list is never the same. I took my wife to see them, and she a moderate fan, just couldn't believe the energy level and connection with the audience that was sustained for over two hours.

I suppose my own connection with them is so fervent because we share the same age and backgrounds. The boys have mostly known each other since high school, meeting each other at "band camp" as teenagers. My friends and I always talked about getting a band together, but the pesky detail of us not being musicians always stood in the way of that. Barenaked Ladies are the band we would have been if any of us could play a note.

BNL's (Barenaked Ladies) classically trained backgrounds come to the fore both in concert and on the records. Their bass player Jim Creegan uses a mammoth upright bass that he's been lugging around since grade school. The bass plays fat and deep and is a signature of the groups sound. The drummer Tyler Stuart played in a marching band. The groups leaders Steve Page and Ed Robertson are the Lennon/McCartney of the bunch - and I make that comparison in all seriousness, though I am a perversely devoted fan. Kevin Hearn, the keyboard player, is perhaps the most technically talented of them all, he is a relatively latecomer to the group, though he has known them since they started.

As musician's, they would probably never say so, but they are about as skilled as popular artists get. Don Was, a world class producer who has worked with some of the biggest names around, oversaw the making of the multi-platinum record "Maroon" and said BNL was the most technically accomplished band he had ever worked with.

As for the fans, they are devoted, but they can be classified into two groups.
"Gordon's" and "One Weeker's."

Gordon, being their first album, was a monster hit in Canada that was the country's biggest seller for years.

One Week, was the aforementioned number one song in the US.

Basically "Gordon" fans are the people who knew the band from college when they were playing banjos and acoustic. The "One Week" people are the youngsters who discovered BNL on the radio and dig the rockin' sounds of the newer stuff. Most fans, like me, fall somewhere between these two groups, and enjoy both.

I love BNL's earlier records for the humor, earnestness and exuberance. They were often mistakenly categorized as a "joke" band, such as Weird Al Yankovich, because the first record has some pretty funny shtick. The truth was that "Gordon" has darker layers as well. A running joke now with the band is that with each new album, there's always critics who say "This is a more mature sound for the group...", when in fact they've been "mature" since the beginning.

I can't get enough of the recent records, including the one that just came out, for the rock and roll and the assuredness of professionals at the top of their game. These guys know exactly what they're doing and deliver knockout blow after knockout blow with their unmatched song-writing and fierce musical chops.

I'd say if you've never heard BNL before, start with their Greatest Hits CD. It has the perfect mixture of all the sounds of their career.

(Some would say get "Gordon" but to me that only gives half the picture of what BNL is about, especially these days.)

Then check in here next week for my excessively long review (glowing of course) of their brand new album that came out two days ago - "Barenaked Ladies Are Me". A 29 song opus that really defines BNL as perfectionists and prodigious recording artists.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Where's Nemo's mommy?

So my two year old kid has now graduated from the excruciatingly boring "educational" videos featuring sock puppets, cuddly animals and mind numbingly repetitive music - to the far more tolerable feature films of Disney and Pixar.

Thankfully, she still spends far more time with books than with TV, but because of the marketing geniuses at Disney; the two have become intertwined. It all started when we were reading her favorite book, a "Where's Waldo" version of Finding Nemo. For some abjectly insane reason the thought occurred to me that she may want to see her beloved orange fish in animated form.

From the moment I fired up the video, she was absolutely entranced, far more than she's ever been with a "Baby Einstein" or some such. "It's Nemo!" she proudly proclaimed, as the three dimensional pixels danced across the screen.

For those of you who have never seen a Pixar movie, the animation is bright and vibrant - in every way absolutely stunning, even to grown up eyes. It simply blows away the production values of any "children's" programming or videos.

Two vibrant clown fish played and danced in and out of an anemone atop a brilliantly beautiful coral reef. "That's Coral and Marlin, Nemo's mommy and daddy." I said. My little girl was in heaven.

And then the barracuda showed up.

The very first scene of this movie has Nemo's mommy and all of his brothers and sisters (in egg form) eaten by a ferocious carnivore. Thankfully the bulk of the carnage is off camera, but the scene does involve big nasty teeth and a brief fight between the barracuda and Marlin (Nemo's dad). Marlin is knocked out and the screen goes black, he awakens to find his fish wife and all but one of his children's eggs gone. He cradles the remaining egg (Nemo) and sobs and swears to protect his new son. All of this before the opening credits.

This continues in the grand Disney form of dead or dying parents - from Bambi's mother being blown away by a hunter (a moment which I will NEVER forget seeing on the big screen, I must have been five or six years old). To the lion king's daddy getting trampled to death by a herd of wildebeest. Even so, I was really concerned that I had goofed up by letting my two year old see death and it's fallout (even in a very family friendly fashion) so early in life. Thankfully, I think she handled it well.

After seeing the opening scene, my daughter turned to me and asked simply "Where's Nemo's mommy?" She had watched the entire scene unfold, unblinking, and had totally grasped (for the most part) what she had seen. As gently as I could I tried to clarify what had happened, and at that point the story flash forwarded to Marlin and his young son Nemo going to the first day of school. Happy, colorful, joyful images took over.

My little girl watched the entire remainder of the movie, becoming distracted only a handful of times. She got upset and scared, and needed the arms of daddy, for the few intense scenes (a shark chase, a deep sea dive with a sharp toothed monster fish, a whale swallowing Marlin and his friend Dori) but overall I could tell she really enjoyed it. Having read the book thousands of times, she constantly pointed out to me when places and fish showed up that she recognized.

She even got tremendously excited at the happy emotional highlights, especially when Marlin finally finds his kidnapped son. In the final scene, Nemo gives his dad a big hug - at which point my own little girl spun to wrap her arms around me. She had watched the whole thing, and gotten the story. She seemed genuinely relieved and thrilled to have made the journey with Marlin and Dori to find Nemo.

This was over a month ago. To this day she asks to watch "Nemo" all the time. Most days we say no or distract her - but we do allow it 2 or 3 times a week. She loves following the story, exclaiming excitedly at her favorite parts, still a bit timid and clingy during the scary scenes. She anticipates these moments with a fearful whine and a run to daddy or mommy. We hold her and remind her that she's seen this story before and everything turns out good.

I do have concerns that this may have been a bit much for my daughter, to see such an intense story at so young an age. True, most two year olds I've encountered wouldn't have necessarily even comprehended the Nemo book, let alone a feature film designed to entertain adults as much as children. But my kid isn't most two year olds. She gets the story, and she talks about it with me when she's lying down for bed. Even if she hasn't actually seen the movie in several days. The story, the sacrifices the characters make - the perilous adventures they go on, all have made a big impact on my little girls psyche.

But I think she's fine with it, and in some ways I think it's good for her.

In a very real way, her path in life mirrors the story of "Finding Nemo" itself. Marlin from the beginning promises Nemo that nothing will ever happen to him. Later, Dori, Marlin's fish friend, correctly points out that this promise is silly. "If nothing ever happened to him, then NOTHING would ever happen to him!"

And so it goes with kids.