We take a break from our current Guster obsession and turn our hearts and ears to the new Barenaked Ladies release, Barenaked Ladies Are Me. Silly name, great songs. I downloaded the deluxe super long version from iTunes (28 songs). There is a 15 song version available on their website for download if you are interested, and you can buy a CD at a record store.
For those of you not interested, sincere apologies for this entry. But I've waited for this release rather eagerly for over a year , listening to their podcasts, following the progression of laying down beds and putting on vocal layers, and sunburns on Ed's gorgeousness mixed into the middle. I've downloaded live versions from their website from last tour. And as one obsessed I must analyze and digest and pick what parts will become interwoven into my life's tapestry.
And as a fan of this journal, hopefully you'll read along with my thoughts on this topic. Even if you're not interested in the band, there are a few songs that may click with you. Anti-war folk will LOVE "Fun & Games" and you should download it from iTunes or wherever you get your downloads. You'll also love the honest "Maybe You're Right" which is one of their most powerful tracks ever.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I will write a summation of what I think of each song. Agreements or disagreements from my three or four fellow BNL maniac fans (and you interlopers) are welcome over in the comments section.
I am not sure if this is even the right order that the tracks are supposed to be heard in, but it is the way they are organized on my PC by iTunes, so I hope it is an accurate in-order representation.
Here we go. Track by track, I give you the (a)musings (o)pinion on BLAM:
Hate it. I hated it the first time I heard it. I think the lyrics are lame. I don't like Kevin Hearn's singing on this song. It is over produced, the harmony layers are ... gross. I can't believe they kicked off the album with this song. Feh. (ha! did you think I'd immediately and unequivocally gush? NO! I'm honest about my feelings, even when it comes to BNL).
A classic, comedic, sweet little gem. The premise (bank robbers who botch a job because the bank is filled with nuns) would make a great novella or short movie. Ed's voice is beautiful, the lyrics are clever and sweet (the nuns were "like zebras. They had us confused). I love the instrumentation on this one, lots of little Kevin noises. It isn't way far off the version they played on tour last year, and it is one of my favorite BNL songs ever.
Could be better lyrically. I get where they're headed with it, but the song seems to lack clever hooks, or any cleverness at all. It is kind of a companion to the song Aluminum on Everything to Everyone. Kind of a follow up in some ways. Seems to be a theme with them lately, but this one fails to deliver. It is in a kind of jazzy rat-pack style with lots of harmony and quick lyrics sung by back-up singers. I just think it is missing something and that would be in the lyrics.
Down To Earth
Killer opening drum licks layered with crazy Kevin Keyboards. Lots of fun noises, weirdness, and an up beat almost movie soundtrack feel. "She's just so down to earth, via satellite."
I had high hopes for this. The long drawn out "Eeeeesssaaaaaayyyyy" harmonizing really bores me. The guitar work is nice, but as a single, this was a bad choice, a schnorer, and I don't care for it.
Everything Had Changed
Very Klezmer-ized, beautiful bow work on the strings by our boy Jim and tremendous accordion work from our boy Kevin. Wow. Almost like "Message in a Bottle" by the Police in theme. Lyrically it captures a lot of what old BNL had to offer -- loneliness, depression, but with an ounce of hope at the end. A hundred million castaways, looking for a home. Awesome vocal work by Steve. Good song.
Half a Heart
Best opening line in a long time. "Drunk on wine, I'm amazing." Again -- Ed's singing and voice are superb. It's a good song ... it's growing on me. I am not sure what the whole song is about, but it's catchy, it's got some interesting lyrics, and hell... best thing on the album so far after Bank Job.
A very beautiful piece, if not slightly repetitive at times (that's when I knew that I was, that's when I knew that I was... okay we get it). Follows in the "You will be waiting" kind of sound that we love from old BNL songs... Gorgeous vocal by Steve. Great song, very pretty.
I Can I Will I Do
A long time played live song, very glad to see it finally released. Steve's vocal is not so hot on this though. I found him breathy and kind of sloppy in what I suppose is supposed to be a sultry, sexy way, but I didn't feel that. I would have preferred a fresh, crisp, hard and clear vocal a la "What a Good Boy". It's a great song though, and I'm sure live it will continue to be tremendous.
Repetitive, somewhat decent, excellent use of handclaps. A song focusing on a couple on the verge of a breakup written by guys who are happily married kind of lacks a little something real . Not that I want them to break up with their wives to get better songwriting... There are some great lines in here "pretty soon I'll be as good as gold, lamé."
Peterborough and the Kawarthas
For people outside of Canada, some research into where Peterborough and the Kawarthas are may come in handy. Think vacation land, think a nice little getaway, a cabin, woods, lakes, canoes, views, joy. And then think of a dad leaving his baby in order to go back to work or on tour or somewhere far away. And in his far away place he misses the family, and listens to the weather forecast imagining the rain there is heading his way. His longing is sweet and sad. And that should make for a great song. But. Not a big fan. I found this repetitive, repetitive, and ... redundant. Sung by Jim, his voice is sweet and pure, and Tyler voices in the weather report rather convincingly. But the sweet and weather doesn't save the song from just being kind of boring. It will be picked up by a tourism Canada board in the spring, I predict. You just watch.
Ironically, this one will be picked up by some major corporation to sell a product, and that will be very, very funny. Because the song continues in that BNL vein of post modern ennui that brought us Pinch Me. There is a lot of delicious sarcasm here. What I love about the band. The one thing I hate about this song is mention of "Billy Barty." Seems like they went fishing for something and thought it would be funny to reference a 70s little person actor. Not so much.
Rule the World With Love
"Couldn't happen to a better man, wouldn't happen with a better plan. While we were napping someone else began to rule the world with love." I think this is a slam on the Bush policies across the planet of "compassionate conservatism." Eventually ruling with an iron fist and force in the guise of "love." Song sounds good overall, and I prefer the live version.
Running out of Ink
Excellent keyboard opening, and a great song that spotlights how the band feels about being constantly compared to the "old" band. "This is what it takes to drive a man to drink." Kind of sums up a more grown up take on Box Set. And it's not just about how aging changes your songwriting, it also spotlights how relationships work their ways into songs and now everyone in town knows your dirty little secrets if you know a songwriter, echoing "In The Car," in some ways. A nice rocking tune with humorous lyrics, this is a keeper.
Kevin sings this piece of high-school time nostalgia of a young couple, with references to Dairy Queen Blizzards in his heart. It's okay. Background filler-ish kind of okay. Nothing really grabs me about this one, not sure if even a change of vocalists to Steve would save this one for me. Meh.
The New Sad
Everybody knows that happy is the new sad. It starts out powerfully, but then becomes... repetitive (are you detecting an opinion thread here with me yet?) I really don't care for this. It starts out so promising... and then. meh.
Kevin sings this one, about a magician looking to hook in a beautiful admirer. "He's a magician, hoping, wishing. But you're the one vanishing." This song works in a number of ways. Kevin's voice is very good, kind of creepy in a way, and I get a vision of a David Copperfield kind of guy eyeballing a chick in his Bellagio audience. It gets a bit repetitive towards the end where they just beat the refrain over and over. Aside from that, I like sound and feel of this one. Finally, a Kevin song that is really good.
Why Say Anything Nice?
"Why'd you put your dress shoes if you didn't come to dance?" Why say anything nice when you can say nothing at all. It's a great little rocking tune, a really good time, and falls into their political opinion and social commentary file folder of songs, falling in where Steve is often criticized for being critical towards the US government. Clever lyrics, great drum work, horns cranking hard, great use of harmonies that aren't over produced and layered in, and awesome keyboards from Kev. It should have been faster though. That's my only complaint here. This would be a great radio hit.
Filled with plays on words, including the title "I'm adrift without a snowflake" this is a very nice example of why I love Ed Robertson. His voice and his tone and the tongue in cheekness on this one really make me smile. Also, great guitar work with a nice banjo and mandolin laid in. Great song. "You're an abacus and my heart was counting on us." In some ways, this almost touches me as the counter-character to "Tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel," where the subject of that song is a bit aloof but coming home, and dies in an accident on the highway. I kind of feel this is the other person waiting, thinking to his or herself "your heart's got a heavy load, there's still a long way to go. Keep your eyes on the road" before any knowledge of the accident. I'm reading too much in, I'm sure. I like the violins at the end, and the kind of weird echoey sound... which feeds my read and sense of foreboding.
The first time I heard this song I didn't like it. I didn't like the live version, and this is one instance where the studio album delivers some unexpected and enjoyable results. I read it as a character study in what "activism" does to people around the activist. And if he's going to be angry, he wants you on his side so he'll pull people "down" until they're Just Like Us! Steve has gotten into a lot of hot water for his political views and public voicing of them, and I think that this is his fun way of poking at people who think he is too angry all the time. Nicely done.
Bull In A China Shop
Probably one of my favorite songs off of this album. I'd heard it done live before, and love the concepts, especially "I'm a bottle of diet poison" and "I'm the reason I don't go out." The song cracks me up. "I can't hear a thing, cause I've stopped listening." Someone else I know reads this song as an indictment against George W. Bush and people of his ilk. Which I would too save for the last two lines which make me think this is at face value a guy who just sucks at relationship and has made a wreck of his life. Not a president who has made a wreck of the country. That comes later on this album. Oh! as a matter of fact, it is the next one.
Fun & Games
I know a lot of people will and do love this song (Bill and Stace would LOVE this one, and I may send it to them). As for me, I skip over it. I've listened to it a number of times and to be honest I don't think (deep in my heart) that anyone in government thinks it is funny and a lark that soldiers die and continue to die in the Iraq war. It's not like playing Risk or Parcheesi and people sit in a room and laugh about limbs being blown off. I don't think it is a fair assessment of the gravity that comes with making a decision like what was made. It is like armchair quarterbacking with a CNN anchor telling us what to think instead of John Madden.
For the record, the band is entitled to their opinion, and because I love their right to free speech, I also exercise mine to free hearing and go on to the next one...
Maybe You're Right
I love that they paired these two songs together. "Fun & Games" sounds as if it was written in 2002, this one sounds as if it was written yesterday, with four years of contemplation between events. Steve asks us:
"Shall I take back
everything I've ever said
and live my whole life in silence instead?"
While Ed counters with
"Shall I take back
all my attacks,
all of my accusations?
All my mistrust,
we never discussed
And they soul search through the past few years of their open honesty and outright opposition to the war, and the war itself. It was over simplified, it was under thought. Or is it their reactions that were over simplified and under thought? The pronoun of "it" is used instead of "the war" or "my feelings" and before I know it, I'm not sure which they mean but I have an idea.
Then, on the top of everything as it layers and builds, Steve releases "Maybe you're right, maybe you're right but I don't think so." It builds to a hugely powerful crescendo with horns layering over one another, and when they do it live the band sings the horn parts.
The gravitas and honesty in this song is overwhelming to me, and it brings me to tears. Knowing the shitstorm that Steve brought on himself from his own fans, from people who adore him and respect him, brought him to this song.
And he still stands by what he believes.
But with more humility than the similarly inclined and opinionated Dixie Chicks' bitchy little "Not Ready To Make Nice" song. Stack the two up against one another, and tell me you don't prefer this song.
It's my favorite song on the album, especially when it is done live and they do the horn part at the end together. And even though I may disagree with things they've said, expressed and positions they've held, I will love Steve and Ed for sharing this and writing this amazing song.
I guarantee you will find me standing there singing along tearfully when they do it live. This is the gem of the album, this is the best song in the crop.
One and Only
An interesting study in different rhythms by Tyler Stewart on drums, with a rather curious lyric stream sung by Ed. Overall I'm not loving this one. Not sure if it is a song about a baby, a dog, or some guy who needs a clue. Will it grow on me? Not sure.
Something You'll Never Find
Awesome organ opening with Tyler kicking ass on the drums. Starts off strong but the lyrics are soft. Evokes a Beatles kind of feel, and it's not unlistenable but I wouldn't put it on my mp3 player if I was short on space. Great horns rocking in the back, by the way -- something BNL hasn't used a lot of in the past is horns. And they're well put to use here.
Sound of Your Voice
Originally sung by Kevin on tour last year, I'm incredibly glad that Steve took over the vocal for this. Under Kevin's vocal, the song was squishy and soft. Steve kicks its ass, and owns it. Very nicely done. What an excellent decision. I don't hate Kevin, I just ... prefer when he doesn't sing.
Take It Back
Ed sings this one, and it echoes "Maybe You're Right" but with an outright "If I've said anything to make you mad, I'll take it back." It could be a relationship song if it didn't outright reference airport security and measures our government has slapped down on our heads to protect us from plastic forks and ourselves. It is a great song -- very honest with an ongoing slice of frustration at the goings on in this post-post modern world.
What a Letdown
How ironic, some would say. Overall the album isn't really great and people are using this title to express their disappointment in it. This song however has decent lyrics, Ed does a great job with the vocals, you can hear him smirking through each line. Best line was "That might have been funny at twenty but I just turned 32." The drums are tremendous. But the harmonies are way too layered and kind of annoying on the refrains. I think it focuses on where they are now as older songwriters instead of college aged pranky songwriters. Too many weird Kevin noises in the back, trilly flutes and weird honking farty noises. Let the guitar solo speak for itself. Otherwise, it's a letdown.
Wind It Up
Well, this is the song that will be the the big video starring people who submitted air-guitar videos to be included in the final product, as some of my acquaintances on Barenaked dot net are learning. I tried to get good video of our Geoff to submit for inclusion, but my camera doesn't record for more than 90 seconds, and I didn't feel like stringing pieces together for one final product. The lyrics here are what we expect from a BNL song in a lot of ways. "I was a baby when I learned to suck but you have raised it to an art form" shines through. Also, "Throw your sticks and stones, throw your mobile phones" could be dangerous at a live show. If they thought having macaroni and cheese thrown at them hurt back in the day, imagine how it feels having cell phones pelt them in the head. Ending the album strong compared to the opening is a good move, although I would have done it the other way and put this one first, and Another Spin last.
On the CD on iTunes Another Spin is a bonus track. I think if you bought the CD in a record store, you'd get 13 tracks, and Quality and Another Spin are not included in that release. I don't know how they keep track of how things sell in order to to chart on Billboard or wherever they keep track of this, but I can't understand how the band is going to make an impact on charts by selling three different versions of the release, plus an acoustic version that was part of a pre-order package through the record label if you bought it back during the summer. And I think the acoustic version is available if you buy the album in its fourth version, a USB computer stick. Which I may get, just because I want the acoustic version and am kicking myself for not buying it in presale.
I recall when Everything To Everyone came out in 2003 and I initially didn't like it at all. I thought there was WAY too much of a Kevin Hearn influence on just about every song. But many of the songs on that release grew to be some of my favorites, just with patience and time and seeing them done live. Aluminum, Celebrity, Next Time, each of those songs are some of the best the band has ever released, but the first time I heard them I didn't necessarily believe that. Will I fall in love with songs like "One and Only" and "Something You'll Never Find" on this release? Not sure. I doubt it.
Still, the diamonds on this album, in my opinion, far outweigh the dogs. And in the end, if you're interested in the ones I point out as good (Bank Job, Maybe you're Right, Running out of Ink etc...) get them and give them a listen.
Alright. Let the flame comments commence! Or, let the agreements commence. You be the writer.