SameDiff BNL

Don't Box Them In

By MARK BROWN, Rocky Mountain News, August 10th, 2001.

Barenaked Ladies aims to surprise

Ever since the song Box Set appeared on their debut album Gordon, Barenaked Ladies have joked about doing some similar huge collection.

Now they find some sort of compilation called for in their recording contract, and it's not quite so funny anymore.

"For me, that's where my heart lies. The pain in the ass for me is being involved in the creative stuff," singer Ed Robertson deadpans. "This music thing is cool and I'm glad it's all worked out, but I just hope it runs its course so I can get back to business."

Instead of the box set, though, the band is doing a greatest-hits package with new songs added in, and is trying for a set of rarities to go along with it.

"We're at a stage where the greatest hits makes sense and a box set doesn't," Robertson says via phone from Cleveland before the band's stop at Fiddler's Green tonight. "A box set should be for an artist that has 20 albums.

"Part of our goal with releasing the greatest hits is to kind of give our own answer to the burned CD. We'd like to present it in the order we're proud of and the song selection we like," Robertson says. "We're trying to figure out how to include the Joni Mitchell thing — the greatest misses.

"We're kinda chipping away at the record company to get them to put in the second disc without hiking up the price... a whole other disc of b-sides, rarities and things we like. That's what we're trying to do with this tour — go back and play stuff we haven't played in years."

Indeed, fans will hear long-ignored favorites such as Everything Old is New Again alongside the hits that made the Canadian quintet famous — If I Had $1,000,000, One Week, Brian Wilson, et al.

If nothing else, the hits package gives them a chance to reflect. The band's runaway success with the release of 1998's Stunt left them drained. And Robertson realized that he and the band's other main songwriter, Steve Page, had drifted so far apart that they weren't writing songs together anymore.

"Success comes and you never end up with the emotional time or the physical time to do the things that made the band successful," Robertson says. "It was such a roller coaster that we didn't get to do it."

When it came time to record last year's Maroon, he realized that "the best songs, the songs we enjoy the most, are the songs we write together, so why don't we make a point of doing that?" Robertson says.

On Maroon, Robertson decided: "I don't wanna sing. I just wanna feel more attached to the material. I told Steve early on that if there's anything you can grab onto ideologically, just start singing it."

So Too Little Too Late and Never Do Anything and "four or five songs that were 'Ed' songs" ended up being sung by Page.

And the manic success has leveled off as well.

"The huge runaway success of Stunt has faded," Robertson says. "We released Maroon and it certainly did very well, but it's less than half of what Stunt did. But our fan base doesn't seem to have leveled out the same way — we're still packing arenas and amphitheaters."

That's a long way from the club days, but the band doesn't take it for granted. While huge rock stars had substandard (cheap) sound systems on recent tours, BNL has nothing but the best.

"If you throw up video screens and really work on getting the whole room involved, you can make it intimate," Robertson says. "We want to make sure the person in the back row is getting as good a show as the people on the floor."