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.
Bnlblog.com 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.)
Posted by Chris Manzoni at 3:33 PM