The Barenaked Ladies

Monday, November 17

Apparently, the Barenaked Ladies have come to grips with a stark realization: When you're in your mid-thirties and carrying mortgages in Toronto's snootiest neighborhoods, trying to maintain an image as a nerdy frat boy does little to advance your career. It's not that the pop band -- the Wiggles of the keg-party set -- is through having fun. But singing songs about life as a ninth-grader or wondering about what to buy with a million dollars, sung from an immature geek's point of view, are not quite as convincing now that you're a soccer dad.

So the brat pack has come out with a decidedly more mature slant in "Celebrity," Everything to Everyone's Beatlesque lead-off cut. The song explores the group's status as multiplatinum superstars, at least in their home country, and it offers several complex layers to peel back. The usually frenetic vocalist Steven Page delivers a purposeful, self-deprecating take on the age-old discovery that being famous ("I'm gonna be a hero like Phil Esposito or the Kennedys") can have a downside.

Gone along with their immaturity are the likes of Don Was and all the other celebrity producers from recent years. Gone also are the obligatory couple of throwaway tracks, though there's still a clunker on Everything -- the loopy, ska/dancehall-tinged "Another Postcard," which of course was tabbed by Reprise as the lead-off single.

Many of the new tracks take on an introspective tone, even while they still bounce nicely out of your vehicle's sound system. Lyric-writing has always set the band apart, along with lush harmonies and the ability to change gears from one genre of music to another in mid-beat. Thankfully, for the most part this album harks back to the group's earliest days when Page was able to blend his melancholy musings with the band's onstage mayhem. It's okay for me to be a self-pitying loser, he once suggested in perhaps BNL's most brilliant, ageless song, because that's what Brian Wilson did.

So put the Silly String away, and pay attention to the words, kids. For example, the idea for the slightly mocking, techno-flecked "Shopping" came from when singer Ed Robertson saw George W. Bush suggest to the American people that the best thing to do after 9/11 to help their country was to buy a new car. And Page is downright pissed off in "War on Drugs," when he comments on failed policy by using a stark example from a Toronto suburb: "Near where I live there's a viaduct / where people jump when they're out of luck / raining down on the cars and trucks below / they put a net there to catch their fall / like that'll stop anyone at all."

 
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