Features
Reviews
Must Hear Music
Reviews Archives
Archives
Bargain Basement
Downloads
Music DVD
Upstart
Pipsqueaks
 
 
 
Features
Reviews
Archives
Send Us Mail
Contact Us
 
 

Barenaked Ladies
Barenaked Ladies Are Men
Desperation Records/Nettwerk
www.bnlmusic.com


Barenaked Ladies' ascent to stardom in 1998 - on the strength of their multi-platinum album Stunt and hit single "One Week" - is one of the more improbable success stories in recent memory. While they have always been master pop craftsmen, a band of clean-cut Canadian pranksters didn't seem the most likely candidates for superstar status. Fittingly, each album since their breakthrough has seen them fading further from critical and mainstream attention and closer to where they rightfully belong - playing and writing for a legion of dedicated fans.

In 2006, equipped with enough new material for two records, the band released its first studio album - Barenaked Ladies Are Me - on their own independent label, Desperation Records. Apparently not satisfied with giving their music-hungry fans just one record, the band released the similarly-titled Barenaked Ladies Are Men earlier this year. According to the biography on the band's official website, the record is "comprised of songs not on the… Barenaked Ladies Are Me CD," so it may be a glimpse into material the band could easily have left in storage. Taken as an individual album, though, it's hard to ignore the record's flaws. The hour-long Are Men has its share of strong tracks, but it is a largely a by-the-books, forgettable Barenaked Ladies album that rarely recalls the more accomplished work in the band's back catalog.

Most tragically missing on Are Men is the emotional undercurrent co-lead vocalist Steven Page has provided in his most spirited performances - songs like the early-career masterpieces "Brian Wilson" and "Jane," and the soaring "Call And Answer" from Stunt. On Are Men, Page gives glimpses of what makes him great, but he is largely content to peddle catchy, emotionally vacant pop songs. At their best, Page and songwriting partner Ed Robertson remain adept lyricists on Are Men, contributing songs that are sprinkled with wit, satire, and sincerity. Musically, though, even Page's fragile, moving vocal on "I Can I Will I Do" can't overcome an arrangement that sounds strangely mechanical. Interestingly, the self-deprecating "Running Out Of Ink" seems to be an admission of Page's waning inspiration - nevertheless, it's frustrating to hear the upbeat, propulsive pop melodies that have replaced most of what was so expressive about his past masterpieces. Since the record doesn't have any pop songs as sublime as "It's All Been Done," the second single from Stunt, most of his performances - save occasional flashes of inspiration - sound half-hearted and are often forgettable. Page's flaws mirror the album's most glaring problem - it is long on glitz and showmanship and short on meaning and inspiration.

Page is the most capable singer in the band, but right-hand man Ed Robertson contributes lead vocals just as often. On brilliant tracks like hit single "Pinch Me" from 2000's Maroon, Robertson has shown an ability to channel profound loneliness in his emotive baritone. He and Page are credited as co-writers on most of the band's material on Are Men, but tracks like the moving "Half A Heart" are faithful to what has become Robertson's trademark style. Many of his most memorable songs are plodding, introspective laments with minimalist melodies and his unadorned, plaintive vocals. At times, Robertson does turn up the volume on tracks like the upbeat (but hardly cheerful) "Maybe Not," but these songs stray a bit too far from his strengths to be effective.

Robertson's standout performance, "Fun & Games," is an ingeniously spot-on indictment of the Bush administration's failures in Iraq. "And while you all slumbered, we sat and crunched numbers / Of all the casualties we could afford / There's no need to draft them, you could hear us laugh then / The poor and black all need the room and board… / Did I say that out loud?" Robertson sings in a faux-nonchalant tone. It's satire at its best and most cutting, and on its own makes Barenaked Ladies Are Men worth a spin.

Another exceptional track, "Serendipity," was written by keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn. An unpretentious, nostalgic story-in-song, it has more of an emotional pull than anything (outside of "Fun & Games") that Page and Robertson bring to the table. The song captures what makes the album, despite its drawbacks, worthwhile for anyone who has followed the band through the years.

Barenaked Ladies Are Men is the sound of a group of musicians having fun and enjoying their time out of the limelight. They have no need to pander to mainstream radio or strive for record sales, but based on Are Men it's easy to wonder whether this has dulled the band's ambitions as much as it has liberated them. Sure, it's nice to see two new albums within a year's time, but it would also be encouraging to hear more of the urgency and ingenuity that made their best records great.

-Dan Warren

Track Listing:
1. Serendipity
2. Something You'll Never Find
3. One And Only
4. Angry People
5. Down To Earth
6. Beautiful
7. Running Out Of Ink
8. Half A Heart
9. Maybe Not
10. I Can I Will I Do
11. Fun & Games
12. The New Sad
13. Quality
14. Another Spin
15. What A Letdown
16. Why Say Anything Nice?

Check out more reviews

Talk Back
e-mail the chief

Like this article?
e-mail it to a friend!

 


Mike Doughty



none now
-------


South By Southwest 2014
David DeVoe

South By Southwest 2013
David DeVoe

Red Hook Music Festival
George Dow

SXSW 2012
David DeVoe

Our Favorite Records 2011
Hybrid Staff

AWOLNation
Rachel Fredrickson

Kanrocksas
Rachel Fredrickson

Warped Tour 2011
Rachel Fredrickson

Eddie Spaghetti
Melissa Skrbic-Huss

Murder By Death
Mike DeLeo


Mike Doughty
Boulder, CO

Epilogues
Denver, CO

Imagine Dragons
Denver, CO

Sebadoh
Cambridge, MA

Young Magic
Denver, CO

Warped Tour 2012
Denver, CO

Thrice
Denver, CO

Mike Doughty
Denver, CO

MuteMath
Kansas City, MO

Other Lives
Lawrence, KS

Los Campesinos
Boston, MA

The Civil Wars
Lawrence, KS

Ha Ha Tonka
Lawrence, KS

Thrice
Lawrence, KS


 
hybridmagazine.com is updated daily except when it isn't.
New film reviews are posted every week like faulty clockwork.
Wanna write for hybrid? Send us an e-mail.
© 1996-2009 [noun] digital media. All rights reserved worldwide. All content on hybridmagazine.com and levelheadedmusic.com is the intellectual property of Hybrid Magazine and its respective creators. No part of hybridmagazine.com or levelheadedmusic.com may be reproduced in any format without expressed written permission. For complete masthead and physical mailing address, Click Here.