Album Reviews: Barenaked Ladies Are Me by Barenaked LadiesOver the course of their first several albums, I was the biggest Barenaked Ladies fan in the world. I smuggled boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese into their shows to throw during "If I Had $1,000,000 Dollars"; I delighted to their stage antics and between-song banter; I yelled out requests for obscure songs off Maybe You Should Drive and the glorious bluegrass version of "Black Hole Sun" I once heard them play.
But by the time of 2000's Maroon, the followup to their smash breakthrough Stunt, I had to take a break from the band. For one thing, I couldn't stand how popular they'd gotten; suddenly, I was surrounded at their shows by oblivious yuppie couples who would chatter through "Be My Yoko Ono" and "Alternative Girlfriend," then drunkenly try to sing along to Ed's rap on "One Week." It was unbearable. Plus, the band's music, which had always been on the cutesy side, was getting just a little too cheek-pinchingly adorable for my taste. They even had a song called "Pinch Me," which was just so brimming over with cute little pop hooks it was actually sort of nauseating. So for awhile, I turned my back on BNL. It was in everyone's best interest; I didn't want to end up hating the band that had given the world Gordon.
So after all that time away from the Ladies, it was a little jarring to rejoin them for Barenaked Ladies Are Me, their first record since launching their own label, Desperation Records, and unquestionably the band's most comfortable and insular work to date. The jangly folk-pop which dominates BLAM is clearly the work of five happy, successful guys who don't get out much anymore, except to play jangly folk-pop for the legions of adoring fans who toughed it out through that annoying "One Week" phase.
What's amazing is that, despite BNL's slide into such a familiar, almost reflexive sound, BLAM is still a really enjoyable album. And it grows on you with repeat listens, as you start to notice how much Steven Page and Ed Robertson still haven't lost their gift for cheeky lyrics and big, grinning guitar hooks. For every throwaway, we-can-write-this-in-our-sleep tune like "Bank Job" or "Bull in a China Shop," there's a quirky, unpredictable melody like "Maybe You're Right" or one of those keen-witted, mixed-emotion songs the band so excels at, like the gently barbed "Easy." Even the contributions from second-string songwriters Jim Creegan and Kevin Hearn are solid little pop songs – especially Creegan's sunny "Peterborough & the Kawarthas." Jaded, erstwhile BNL fan though I am, I kept thinking, wow -- these guys are still really good at this stuff.
So with Barenaked Ladies Are Me, I guess I'm officially a BNL fan again. They're still too cute and clever by half, and I still probably won't join the drunk "One Week" fans at their next show, but damn if they can't write smart, catchy pop-rock better than just about anyone. - Andy Hermann
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