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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Barenaked Ladies: Everything To Everyone

BARENAKED LADIES: EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE (2003)

1) Celebrity; 2) Maybe Katie; 3) Another Postcard; 4) Next Time; 5) For You; 6) Shopping; 7) Testing 1, 2, 3; 8) Upside Down; 9) War On Drugs; 10) Aluminum; 11) Unfinished; 12) Second Best; 13) Take It Outside; 14) Have You Seen My Love?

If Stunt established the formula and Maroon consolidated it, then Everything To Everyone re­presents the lo­gical slide into boredom once everything that could actually be said to everyone had already been said. The biggest difference is that the album was recorded in a post-9/11 world, and, apparently, The Barenaked Ladies thought the time had come to become more serious, ma­ture, and responsible. Well, on one hand, it does significantly reduce the number of «him vs. her» psycho-studies that made Maroon seem so repetitive. But on the other hand, I am not sure that I would like to adopt these guys as my spiritual gurus — and pardon them this decreased attention towards hooks, even when compensated with a more profound social perspective.

Not that one could ever guess anything about profundity when presented with the album's lead single: ʽAnother Postcardʼ does feature a rappy vocal that makes it obvious the guys were trying to repeat the formula of ʽOne Weekʼ one more time, but on the whole, it is a repetitive and, I am not afraid to say, somewhat cretinous-sounding tale of... an anonymous admirer sending the pro­tagonist an endless series of postcards of chimpanzees. «Cretinous» does not refer nearly as much to the storyline, though, as it does to the music — the idea may have been to indulge in a little bit of silly whimsy, but it isn't even funny, just repetitive and stupid.

The second single, ʽTesting 1, 2, 3ʼ, is not that much better, but at least it does not set out to irri­tate — being merely a forgettable soft-alt-rock tune; and the third single, ʽFor Youʼ, is an equally forgettable country-pop composition, not much different from millions of similar tunes flooding the airwaves. All of which is incredibly surprising, because neither of these songs even pretends to being «outstanding» in any way: it is almost as if the band was consciously discrediting itself as a singles act (come to think of it, that may have been the truth — I cannot fathom an intelligent human being having just written something like ʽAnother Postcardʼ and going «oh, this is going to be our next hit single, boy are those kids gonna love it! I mean, it's just gotta be a hit if it's about chimpanzees, right? Everybody loves a good song about chimps!»).

Anyway, the highlights section of Everything To Everyone, as far as I am concerned, have nothing to do with these songs. ʽCelebrityʼ has the album's juiciest piano hook, decent fame-con­demning lyrics, and a cute combination of ELO-ish strings and Beatlesque harmonies in the ar­rangement. ʽMaybe Katieʼ is stomping power-pop in classic Weezer / Fountains Of Wayne fa­shion and an unforgettable tagline ("what's so maybe about Katie?" is more of a fun line than "another postcard with chimpanzees", after all).

ʽShoppingʼ sounds like late period Apples In Stereo, combining elements of techno with old-style kiddie pop, and even though it is recorded in an even more openly puerile fashion than ʽAnother Postcardʼ, it clearly presents itself as a light­weight parody, ridiculing both the concept of shopping spree and certain musical trends at the same time, so it is openly funny. Finally, ʽUnfinishedʼ (which, if you listen closely, begins with more than a direct homage to the Beatles' ʽGetting Bet­terʼ) and ʽSecond Bestʼ have a good amount of energy, if not necessarily a barrel-load of hooks, and would have both made better singles than the band's actual choices.

I am not at all sure, though, about the most serious songs on the album — such as ʽWar On Drugsʼ and ʽNext Timeʼ, used as vehicles to express the Ladies' concern with the state of humanity at large. ʽWar On Drugsʼ in particular, expanded to five and a half minutes in a clear bid for the status of the album's magnum opus, hearkens back to the tedious languidness of Born Under A Pirate Ship, and no amount of string quartets, pianos, and bombastic buildups can hide the fact that the song is essentially just a formulaic folk ballad, mostly consisting of attitude, and even the attitude is mediocre (considering the ordinariness of Page's vocals).

Curiously, most of the songs I find emotionally acceptable on here have Kevin Hearn credited as co-writer along with Page and Robertson (or Jim Creeggan, on ʽMaybe Katieʼ), which leads to uncomfortable suggestions that will not be voiced openly. Whatever might have been the case, it seems abundantly clear to me that, once again, The Barenaked Ladies have committed the mis­take of overloading their boat — with stuff they neither know how to handle nor have any serious need of, in the first place. Not a «thumbs down» as such, since the good material manages to out­balance the bad one, but really nothing to get excited about: just another college rock record that is not very likely to make musical history, no matter how arrogantly grandiose its title, or even its front sleeve, have been designed to look.


Check "Everything To Everyone" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Everything To Everyone" (MP3) on Amazon

6 comments:

  1. I'm actually a fair bit higher than you on this one. But it took me a while to get there. This album came out right after I began to make the transition to listening to more progressive rock and getting into music in a big way so it totally got lost in the transition and I paid it little attention at first. Eventually after the debacle that was Are Me(n) I got the urge to revisit the band, and I was really pleasantly surprised by this album.

    There are clear lowlights for sure. Another Postcard is just dumb dumb dumb. One Week skirts the edge of being a novelty song but doesn't quite get there, it's goofy but not excessively so and the lyrics are about pretty standard pop song topics (sorta). Another Postcard is a transparent attempt to recreate One Week but misses everything that made the original work. It's mildly catchy so I don't totally hate it, but it's still a super stupid track. The song wouldn't have been out of place on a Weird Al record.

    And then War On Drugs is a pretty lame ballad that doesn't have a memorable bone in it's body.
    But that's pretty much where my complaints end. Some of the songs don't strive for a lot, like the other singles mentioned. But they hit the low level that they do strive for, so I can be receptive to their mild charms. I wouldn't put too much stock in their singles choices from here on out though.

    The biggest highlight is definitely Shopping which is loads of fun, and has one of their most unique and colourful arrangements. One of my favourite tracks they've ever done. And you're right, it totally does sound like Apples In Stereo! That never occurred to me before. The two album openers are great power-pop tunes as well, albeit played with a bit more mellowness than the pop-juggernauts on Maroon and Stunt. That slight change in sound is largely attributable to the production which gives the band it's most relaxed sound yet. Their sound would get even more relaxed on the next record witch wouldn't work out too well for them, but here I think it works nicely and puts them in a solid middle ground. The production lets them play the folky mellow tunes reasonably well, and it makes sure nice little touches like strings still get in there. And room is still left for the more manic material, like Upside Down which is another favourite of mine in all it's weird pitch shifted accordion-led glory. Unfinished and Second Best are quite solid too. Oh and the production puts more emphasis on Kevin Hearn than ever before which has the benefit of adding in a bunch of jolly synthasizers which I like a lot and it helps elevate many of the songs.

    Everything To Everyone is one of the group's more overlooked/underrated albums since nothing on it was an especially big hit, even in Canada (though they were really pushing Another Postcard on the radio for a while, which was just weird, but nobody was having it). Their hitmaking days were over, but the band had only just begun their transition into middle age, and the glow of youth helps them still shine brightly through most of this album. I wouldn't recommend it first by any means but if someone is into the band I would say that this is definitely not one to skip.

    (Oh and the reason Hearn and Creeggan have so many songwriting credits on here is because they decided that all the songwriting should be done democratically within the band. Of course the only thing that that really did was push Stephen Duffy out of the picture which was a shame since he's a better songwriter on his own then the rest of them are as a group, but he and Page subsequently put out the collaborative "Vanity Project" which is pretty good so not a huge loss there.)

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  2. "even its front sleeve"
    Doesn't it remind you of good old Socialist Realism?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26287008@N05/4437552028/

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  3. "Maybe Katie" is great, I'll give them that, but I must admit that all my attempts to get into this band have been wasted. I think it was 2007 (or something) when I first heard them, and it seemed like a decent enough band name for a pop band, but my God do they sound bland ever so often. Catchy, expertly played stuff, but there's an edge missing from these melodies. And when there IS an edge, they kill it with totally expressionless vocals.
    Well, I don't know. For me, the best things these guys do are done so much better by They Might Be Giants.

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  4. I'm pretty sure that the chipanzees in "Another Postcard" are on the postcards, not accompanying them.

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  5. Jesus! I watched the video for Another Postcode on youtube last night.

    If it isn't the very definition of "lame shit" I don't know what is.

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  6. The only takeaway I get from this album is Aluminum. Which does a nice job of being a mid tempo depressing song about phoniness with a shimmering keyboard accompaniment. I do think it's under appreciated.

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