Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quirky Music That Grows On The Listener: Maroon By Barenaked Ladies (My Next Artist Of The Month!)

The Good: Generally fun musically, Decent lyrics, Often silly (in a good way)
The Bad: Some real obvious rhymes, Very similar sound between songs
The Basics: In a fun album, Barenaked Ladies sing ditties that amuse and one that is surprisingly clever. Worthy of a listen.

Barenaked Ladies, like a good number of the quirkier bands out there, do not take as much flack from me for having obvious rhymes. I suppose what it is that works for groups like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies is that they get points for originality in sound, themes and sometimes lyrics, to forgive some obvious rhymes that might annoy me in other circumstances. In all honesty, Maroon is the first full Barenaked Ladies album I have listened to and I was pleasantly surprised.

Maroon is pure pop without the standard sense of seriousness that accompanies most pop-rock music. Barenaked Ladies are fun and their music is upbeat in tempo, quirky in subject and often unpredictable. For example, the final track on Maroon, "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" is a gem of defied expectations. The song opens with an ambiguous, sleepy sound with an early line being "As usual, I'm almost on time / You're the last thing on my mind. . . " That line, "You're the last thing on my mind" is an unflattering dig, the insinuation that the subject does not matter to the narrator. The song takes a left turn, though, with the narrator getting killed in a car accident and when the line is repeated, it has a sense of deep sweetness: "You're the last thing on my mind [before I die]." It's a clever reversal that has the unpredicted effect of pulling on one's heart.

Who would have guessed that an album that sings about narcolepsy, laziness and dreaming through a relationship would also be able evoke emotions like that?

Maroon contains at least one song that those familiar with Barenaked Ladies from the radio will expect. On "Sell Sell Sell," there are pop culture allusions galore like the #1 hit "One Week." As it is, the most recognizable single from Maroon is "Pinch Me," which was nowhere near as successful as "One Week," but it's a pretty solid single and indicative of the quality of song on Maroon.

There are twelve tracks on Maroon and Barenaked Ladies avoid the simple, easy expressions of love, relationships and breaking up. Their songs contain such standards, but buried deep in a fun sound and clever situational lyrics. So, for example, on "The Humour of the Situation," Barenaked Ladies avoid the direct "I'm breaking up with you" or "how horrible it is that love has ended" emotion of a real breakup and goes right for humor with such lines as "I said where I was, but you doubt it because / It's the caller I.D. you're buying / In the hour that it took for me to drive up to the door / You'd arranged all my belongings on the lawn."

The disarming aspect of Maroon is that the songs have vocals that are sung in a straightforward, peppy storytelling manner that makes everything they sing fun. Steven Page and Ed Robertson write the material for the band here and it's clear that the aim is to entertain and amuse. Barenaked Ladies is for music aficionados who are tired of pop-rock taking itself so seriously. It's a clever tact, because by not taking themselves so seriously, they create a unique voice that is fun to listen to. In fact, I found I enjoyed Maroon more the more I listened to it (it did not grab me on my first listen).

Unlike humor albums, though, Barenaked Ladies are not asking us to laugh at them, so it's not like the album is trying to be funny and the humor eventually wears thin. Instead, the band asks us to laugh at pop-rock music by having us experience something distinctive and quirky.

The only drawback is that a number of the songs on the album sound similar to each other or to other Barenaked Ladies songs I've heard before. So, for example, near the beginning "Never Done Anything" sounds suspiciously like "Another Postcard" (the song about the monkeys that was on a later Barenaked Ladies album. It's not a huge concern, but it's enough to be noticeable.

Musically, the songs are basically strong vocals sung in an articulate fashion, backed up by bass, drums, guitars, and keyboards. They have a good mix of faster songs ("Baby Seat") and more gentle, contemplative tracks ("Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel"). This is a great album for those who like the uniqueness of They Might Be Giants or Crash Test Dummies. It is unlikely to be enjoyed by those who are looking for serious or moody pop-rock music.

The best track is "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" and the weak track is "Conventioneers."

For other quirky albums, please visit my reviews of:
Rock Spectacle - Barenaked Ladies
Then: The Early Years - They Might Be Giants
Sand In The Vaseline: Popular Favorites 1976 – 1992 - Talking Heads


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of my music reviews!

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