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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked Ladies Are Me

BARENAKED LADIES: BARENAKED LADIES ARE ME (2006)

1) Adrift; 2) Bank Job; 3) Sound Of Your Voice; 4) Easy; 5) Home; 6) Bull In A China Shop; 7) Everything Had Changed; 8) Peterborough And The Kavarthas; 9) Maybe You're Right; 10) Take It Back; 11) Vanishing; 12) Rule The World With Love; 13) Wind It Up.

Every once in a while, the world needs to be reminded of that old adage — «quantity does not equal quality» (said the Turkish sultan, ordering his ninety-nine brothers to be put to death). For that very reason, the Barenaked Ladies held a historical recording session in early 2005, where they came up with no fewer than 30 original compositions — an impressive pile that took a fur­ther year and a half to finalize, sort out, and release in several variants, eventually settling upon the «white album» and «whiter album» recipe that The Beatles never followed: Barenaked Ladies Are Me, with 13 songs on it, came out in September 2006, and Barenaked Ladies Are Men, containing the rest, followed half a year later.

Had these guys been songwriting geniuses, the story would be truly intriguing. Had these guys displayed their trademark «quirky» behavior and sarcasm, there would be some hope. What hap­pened instead can only be called a blundering catastrophe: apparently, they went into the studio with the solemn goal of writing a shitpile of deadly serious, «thinking-man-introspective-singer-songwriter» pop songs, almost completely bereft of any sense of humor or lightness of approach — or clever hooks, for that matter.

It is not even a question of monotonousness: formally, Barenaked Ladies Are Me is fairly di­ver­se, mixing acoustic folk-pop, electric power-pop, art-pop, alt-rock, bits of electronica, bluegrass, etc., in other words, touching upon all sorts of familiar ground that the Ladies had already cove­red previously, but wouldn't mind shuffling together one more time. And yet, simultaneously, it all sounds thoroughly tedious, mind-numbing, and sort of gooey, taking the stagnation of Every­thing To Everyone to a whole new level.

The few songs that are pinned to loud electric riffage can be seen as relieving exceptions. The best of the lot is probably ʽWind It Upʼ — why it happens to close the album rather than opening it with its bulgy, almost Townshend-ian punch, is way beyond my limited comprehension. Of course, it does not have much to recommend it other than that swirling riff (as well as a monster psychedelic guitar solo from guest star Kim Mitchell), but a good riff and a good solo is the bare minimum required from a decent power-pop tune. Another good one is Kevin Hearn's ʽSound Of Your Voiceʼ, whose garage-influenced lead melody spends most of the time battling against the slower, blues-shuffle-style rhythm section.

And both of these songs were singles, all right, but for some reason, the lead single was ʽEasyʼ — a song that stands much closer in spirit to the somnambulistic bulk of the album. Like many of the Ladies' songs, it is a potentially good number — but in this case, it would have probably rea­lized its potential much better, had it been handed over to U2. Listen to it, then try to imagine the Edge's echoey style instead of the wimpy acoustic foundation used over here, and Bono wailing "make it easy, make it easy" instead of Robertson. Now that could have been something; this version, compared with the imaginary ideal, sounds like a first-stage demo.

And the same applies to more than half of these songs. The ballads are smooth and mushy (ʽAdriftʼ, ʽHomeʼ), the electronics are underdeveloped (ʽBank Jobʼ starts out with bleeps and beeps that still end up chewed up and swallowed by generic alt-rock guitars), and even some of the fast, supposedly energetic pop-rock numbers are thoroughly devoid of creative ideas (ʽBull In A China Shopʼ — ʽBottle Of Diet Poisonʼ would have been a better title, if they really needed a suitable «tired old metaphor» to pick from the song's lyrics). Worst of the lot might be Creeggan's ambitiously titled ʽPeterborough And The Kawarthasʼ — a neo-folk concoction that has no dyna­mics whatsoever; I would have trouble recommending it as elevator muzak.

In short, we are «reborn on a pirate ship» here — once again, the Ladies are offering us serious intellectual pop music, forgetting that even serious intellectual pop music has to address the emo­tional centers in order to succeed. Besides, it's not even all that intellectual: a song like ʽMaybe You're Rightʼ, with its supposedly «deep» chorus of "shall I take back everything I've ever said / and live my whole life in silence instead?", hardly suffices to make the Ladies into respectable social spokesmen for their, or any other, generation.

Had this been a «simple pop» album, it would have been just mediocre. But it is not — the Ladies' acute desire to release everything they came up with, in two subsequent installments; and their equally acute desire to be judged as Serious Singer-Songwriters rather than monkee enter­tainers intentionally push the plank higher than necessary. And since, the way I see it, nothing makes me hate an album more than «inadequacy of intention», Barenaked Ladies Are Me is a certified thumbs down. One more time in its stubbornly frustrating career, the band simply tries to bite off more than it can chew — or, to be more precise, bites off something that is genetically incompatible with its digestive system.


Check "Barenaked Ladies Are Me" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Barenaked Ladies Are Me" (MP3) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. These guys lost me at "but not a real fur coat, that's cruel", lol.

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  2. What a disaster. Everything To Everyone found the band entering middle age while retaining their quirky side to an extent, and the production was lively enough and songs memorable enough for it to be a solid record. This album on the other hand, just drops nearly *everything* that I like about the band. The production is boring, the lyrics are boring, the singing and playing is boring and the songs in general are boring! I've had this album ever since it was released and there are still tracks on here where I can't in the slightest recall how they go, even while looking at the lyric sheet.

    Not every song is terrible, I like Wind It Up, and Sound Of Your Voice (definitely the best track here) a decent amount and Adrift and Bank Job are OK (though that might just be because they come first). But none of those touch any of the highlights on previous BNL albums. Some other tracks are almost OK, I could see Maybe You're Right and Bull In A China Shop being pretty good with some serious reworking, but they still just barely qualify as mediocre here.

    Releasing it in two chunks was probably a good idea since it's difficult enough to get through 13 songs of Are Me in a row, it would be doubly painful if this was twice as long. On the other hand they forced their fans to buy two boring albums instead of just one. The two discs of music could have been whittled down to just the highlights making for a much better album. But that wouldn't fix the general blandness everything is covered in.

    Are Men has more highlights on it than Are Me IMO so for that reason I would have to consider Are Me to be the worst BNL album there is. It's just utterly devoid of anything interesting. Bleh.

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  3. This album took a long time to grow on me, and Peterborough is my favorite track. Are Men had the opposite effect one me. I loved it at first, then I grew more tired of it.

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