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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Barenaked Ladies: Silverball

BARENAKED LADIES: SILVERBALL (2015)

1) Get Back Up; 2) Here Before; 3) Matter Of Time; 4) Duct Tape Heart; 5) Say What You Want; 6) Passcode; 7) Hold My Hand; 8) Narrow Streets; 9) Toe To Toe; 10) Piece Of Cake; 11) Globetrot; 12) Silverball; 13) Tired Of Fighting With You.

Honestly, by the time the Pageless Barenaked Ladies released their third album, I have forgotten everything about every single note off the previous two — so either I have become a softie over the last two years, or Silverball is actually a slight improvement, because this time around, I would not describe the record as a «languid, go-nowhere crust of mediocrity». It is a bit languid, sure, and it is somewhat mediocre, but it also seems as if Robertson finally got his head out of that «maturity oven» and started paying a little attention to hooks — which, really, should be your first concern if what you are making is an album of pop songs, and Silverball sure as heck ain't cosmic psychedelia or ambitious symph-rock.

I have no idea why they decided to kick-start the record with a Blue Öyster Cult-style hard rock riff, when in reality ʽGet Back Upʼ is just a mainstream pop-rock song in the style of pre-slutty era Miley Cyrus — a program song, in which Robertson asserts his right to solid mediocrity ("not everything is sink or swim") while at the same time, perhaps, admitting that things had indeed taken a turn for the worse over the previous years ("I'm a little bit worse for wear"). Well, okay, if a tepidly produced hard rock bridge section helps you get back up, so be it — the question is, can the rest of the album actually satisfy the pledge?

Well, if you accept that for the Ladies, «up» really means «rocking back and forth in a cozy rocking chair by the fireplace», then it does. Most of these songs are predictably cuddly, but they are also bouncy, fast-paced, and focused on catchy choruses — a type of unassuming domesticity that I could see as successful, sort of like a tribute album to ʽWhen I'm Sixty Fourʼ, even if none of the band members are even close to that age border at the moment. Regardless of whether the song in question is electric power-pop with an anthemic refrain (ʽHere Beforeʼ), soft toe-tappy country-pop with a cute electronic lining (ʽMatter Of Timeʼ), or a nostalgic throwback to Eighties synth-pop à la ABC or Duran Duran (ʽDuct Tape Heartʼ), they all share two things — soft intro­spective sentimentality-vulnerability and a genuinely singalong chorus, sometimes supported with strategically placed harmonies (like the woo-woos on ʽDuct Tape Heartʼ).

This does not cure the music of its main illness — complete lack of teeth, particularly deep biters that could tear a serious hole in your soul. This is indie on the level of, say, Badly Drawn Boy, more appropriate for a second-rate Pixar movie soundtrack or some other family entertainment franchise than for anyone who wants to experience the true power of music. But, surprisingly, song after song they succeed in populating the melodies with hooks — either a fun keyboard line, or a nice vocal twist, or an odd retro move (like that flourish at the start of ʽPiece Of Cakeʼ that seems to have been borrowed out of some ambitious disco piece circa 1978), and as they accu­mulate, it slowly leads me to the inevitable conclusion: Silverball is an album that at least has a right and reason to exist, unlike its two predecessors. As George Harrison once wrote — "When your teeth drop out / You'll get by even without taking a bite", a perfect sentence to be used as a tagline for this album and this stage of the band's career in general.

And the best song on the album? As much as Kevin Hearn's ʽDaydreamin'ʼ was a bore, ʽTired Of Fighting With Youʼ is a touch of humble beauty; it helps to know that the song was written during his latest bout with the freshly returned leukemia, but even without that knowledge the vocals, the lyrics, the gently descending waves of melody cut straight to the heart this time. The title of the song and the way it is stretched over the chorus might trigger faraway associations with the Kinks' ʽTired Of Waiting For Youʼ, with which the tune also shares its aura of tender melancholy, but not its subject matter — actually, I guess this might be one of the tenderest songs about a lethal illness ever written.

Anyway, I would like to advance the record its thumbs up: even if there is very little here that would make me want to return to the album now, I do feel like I could easily return here as I ad­vance in age — the whole thing is so homely and cuddly and insists on tackling serious problems and issues in the softest, politest, gentlest ways possible that it would make the perfect soundtrack for nursing homes. And many of us will eventually end up in nursing homes, so it's always wise to stack up a little something for future use.

1 comment:

  1. Nice George. I've been waiting ages for you to review this album. I'm honestly surprised how much you liked it. As a huge fan of BNL, I obviously have mixed feelings about your reviews of them, but I think you hit it on the head with Silverball. I don't dislike Pageless BNL as much as you, and probably prefer Grinning Streak simply for the pairing of Gonna Walk/Odds Are, but I think this was as solid an effort as any fan should expect, especially since no one would expect them to put out so many albums lately.

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