SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ambition: Ladies' Latest Album Falls Flat

By KEITH COLLINS, Fox News, September 12th 2000.

The Ladies As if singing "It's All Been Done" weren't enough, Barenaked Ladies' disappointing new album seems to confirm the sentiment.

On their fifth studio release, Maroon, Canada's quintessential party band adds a lusher sheen to their trademark goof-pop; but they sacrifice much of the off-the-cuff scrappiness for unappealing navel-gazing.

Before 1998's quadruple-platinum smash Stunt, Barenaked Ladies had only a college cult following south of the border.

It was only after Stunt's "One Week" and "It's All Been Done" invaded the States that the group's goofy 1992 paean to dreams of wealth, "If I Had $1,000,000," broke on U.S. radio. A contribution to last year's King of the Hill soundtrack, "Get in Line," continued in that brightly hummable tradition.

Maroon, which features the polished-to-a-high-shine production of Don Was, largely lacks the freshman-dorm inventiveness and whimsy that ran through the Ladies' earlier LPs.

The album's first single, "Pinch Me," is among the exceptions. Surviving the slickness, the track captures BNL at their bemused, prankster best. "Never Do Anything" also maintains BNL's pogoing pop: snappy lyrics and little "life lessons" that don't weigh down the melody. And a throwback to '60s folk-pop, "Go Home," transcends its banal subject with a few well placed xylophonic plinks and background "aaahhhs."

In contrast, the rest of the album disappoints, as songwriters Ed Robertson and Steven Page take some unwise turns, "nakedly" reaching for profundity while clinging onto glib, sweetly forgettable hooks. It's as if the Ladies temporarily forgot to trust their fans to catch their winking drift, and decided to hand listeners crude road maps to the ditties' "meaning."

The anti-commercialist jabs of "Sell, Sell, Sell," for example, bear the Ladies' off-kilter sensibility; but they make some obvious points ("We choose a foreigner to hate/ The new Iraq gets more irate/ We really know nothing about them, and no one cares") that are neither impertinently ironic nor startlingly subversive.

Another track, "Baby Seat," urges listeners to — of all things — mature. Lyrics such as "If we make it back/ I'll renounce Jack Kerouac/ And all of that romantic crap" hit their mark, but the mundane "moral" — "If you think growing up is tough/Then you've just not grown up enough, baby" — derails the tune.

The group also cuts a few corners. "Falling for the First Time," about the contradictory emotions of first love, sounds more like a leadfooted BNL ripoff than a genuine Ladies composition.

The album closes with a thud: the deadly serious "Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel." Like too many of Maroon's songs, "Wheel" suggests what it was aiming for — wry, irreverent, morbid-jokey — while coming off unfinished and timid. A bonus cut, "Hidden Sun," sounds as if it should run over the end credits of an earnest indie film about Gen-X hipster love.

Perhaps international success has reminded the Ladies that they're no longer just noodling together for collegiate Canucks. But keeping one foot in that niche while struggling up Mt. Serious with the other doesn't show off the guys to their best advantage.