SameDiff BNL

They're leading Ladies — What a Stunt

By MIKE ROSS, Express Writer, August 11th 1998.

Our wackiest pop combo takes the U.S. by storm

When the next chapter in the saga of the Barenaked Ladies is written — hey, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it — it might be called Revenge of the Nerds, American Style. Just a thought.

Surpassing the wildest expectations of even that record executive who painted himself green and marched down Yonge Street to promote the band's first album, Gordon, the band's new album, Stunt, debuted at No. 3 on the American charts. It stalled right behind soundtracks to Armageddon and City of Angels, respectively — and we all know that nothing out-sells those star-encrusted soundtracks.

So brace yourselves for this fact: the Barenaked Ladies was the most popular band in America for one week! Boom! The media blitz is on — everything from Letterman to Good Morning America. Can Regis & Kathie Lee be far behind? Entertainment Weakly, sorry, Weekly, suggests that enjoying this band is a guilty pleasure. Rolling Stone gave Stunt a hesitant, two-and-a-half star review, perhaps fearful of being first to admit BNL is actually a pretty decent group. Even Newsweak, sorry, Newsweek weighed in with some bewildered faint praise.

Whether critics agree or not, things are going great for one of the weirdest pop combos in history — a group that has managed to blend goofy with dark and still be taken seriously when they want to.

"We feel like we worked so hard and now we finally made it," says singer Ed Robertson, on the phone yesterday. "Now we're going to relax and enjoy it."

Nice of him to spare some time for The Edmonton Sun (he typed sarcastically) — one of the only Canadian newspapers that stuck with the band through thick and thin. And where were Ed and partner Steven Page when the album was launched a month ago?! Huh? Doing some rock star hype thing with the Yanks, no doubt.

"Um, sorry," Ed mutters.

We'll let it go this time. The topic today is the band's hard-won American success. Per capita album sales-wise, the Barenaked Ladies are far more popular south of the border than at home. They can thank Brian Wilson for that. The BNL song named for the Beach Boys founder became a huge hit and the live album, Rock Spectacle, hit gold (500,000 copies sold) with almost no media attention.

Meanwhile, up in Canada, there was nothing — the dreaded Canadian Backlash had reared its ugly and indifferent head. "We eat our own," Robertson figures, but bears no grudge against fickle fans.

"We were on every station, every magazine and all over MuchMusic and all over the radio for two years straight," he says. "I think people just finally went 'Enough already!' I think we're partly to blame for that, because all we did was kind of mug and goof around for the camera forever.

"I don't hold it against people. I just wish people wouldn't feel like, 'oh, they're s--t now.' Because I think we've just been getting better and better all the time and growing and changing as a band."

Even during the rough time shortly after the second album, Maybe You Should Drive, was released. In light of a nasty falling out with their former manager, the departure of keyboardist Andy Creeggan and less than spectacular album sales, Robertson recalls thinking, "Is this worth it? What the hell's going on here?

"But we'd step out on stage and that two hours would be the best. And we'd realize this is a really good thing. This is worth going for. There are more people out there that would love this. And we felt things were on the decline in Canada and we really focused our efforts down here and we've been touring our asses off in the States for five years now, dingy little clubs — but that's where we started in Canada, the college club tour. In spite of what people perceived, we were no overnight success in Canada, either. We criss-crossed the country three times before the first record came out."

The question now is when — or if — they're coming back. Following a summer of being on the H.O.R.D.E. tour with acts like Blues Traveler and Paula Cole, the Ladies are planning their own North American tour this fall.

"I'm really proud of this last record,'' Robertson says.

"It'd be great if it did well at home. We feel so rewarded by what's going on down here (in America). The successes that we're seeing down here are just so exciting.

"We're looking forward to getting back home and bringing that momentum with us."

It remains to be seen whether they'll play the Coliseum or some dingy club.