Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Musical Stunt That Pays Off For The Listener

The Good: Fun, Energetic, Good lyrics, Funny, Listenable
The Bad: Some repetitiveness of sound
The Basics: Fun and articulate, Barenaked Ladies proves their success was not just a fluke and their album Stunt is more than its title suggests.

Whenever possible, I like to listen to artist's works in order and for the ones I like I tend to evaluate albums partially on the basis of the growth of the artist. I like to see artists taking the strengths I like and expanding upon them while eliminating the faults. Alas, in the case of Barenaked Ladies, I started with their first post-success album Maroon (reviewed here!) and have been going back and then forward again. That said, today I find myself listening to Barenaked Ladies's most commercially successful album Stunt and it's easy to see why this album did so very well.

Known best for the track "One Week," Stunt is anything but. The album gives the listener a very real and direct sense of who Barenaked Ladies are. They are a Canadian pop-rock band that has a sense of humor about the medium. If the kingdom had jesters, Barenaked Ladies would be a logical choice for the role. I say that because jesters had to think on their feet, be entertaining and the best could hold a tune.

For those only familiar with Barenaked Ladies from their listing anthem "One Week," it might be surprising to hear how well the group (primarily Steven Page and Ed Robertson) can sing. Songs like "Never Is Enough" reveal that the group can carry a tune and do so wonderfully. The group has mellow baritone voices that harmonize perfectly.

That's not to say that the group is all just mellow vocals. No, Stunt has some of the most fun songs to ever hit pop-rock. "Who Needs Sleep?" is one of the essential, brilliant and flat-out funny songs from Barenaked Ladies exploring the agony of insomnia. As Steven Page and Ed Robertson write and sing, "With all life has to offer / There's so much to be enjoyed / But the pleasures of insomnia / Are ones I can't avoid." And the song has one of the most fun refrains, sung with such annoying and joyful perkiness, with the lines "Who needs sleep? / Tell me what's that for / Who needs sleep? / Be happy with what you're getting / There's a guy who's been awake / Since the Second World War." It's silly, but it's fun.

The group is not the most musically inventive band in the world, but the quality and amusement factor of the lyrics covers that well. Barenaked Ladies are primarily bass, guitars, keyboards, and drums with an assortment of other instruments thrown in occasionally. The banjo, accordion, and violin all make appearances on Stunt. They create enjoyable, hummable tunes and it is clear the group has musical abilities.

All of the songs on Stunt, lyrics AND music are written by bandmembers Steven Page and/or Ed Robertson with Stephen Duffy assisting on two tracks. The group co-produced the album, keeping them involved in all steps of the creative process.

More than anything, Stunt reassures those who enjoyed "One Week" on the radio that Barenaked Ladies are not a one-hit wonder, that they can produce full albums filled with material of the same high caliber. And it reminds listeners that pop-rock can - and should! - be fun. If anyone were to teach the masses such a lesson, Barenaked Ladies would do it. And Stunt is a fine outing to do it with.

The best track is the fun and outrageous "Who Needs Sleep?," the weak track is "In The Car," which left little impression with me.

For other, former Artist Of The Month selections, why not visit the reviews of:
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
Modern Times - Bob Dylan
Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996 – 2006 - Eels


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my album and singles reviews!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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