SameDiff BNL


By PETER GASTON, CDNOW Editorial Staff, CDNOW, September 20th, 2000.

On "Brian Wilson," one of Barenaked Ladies' signature tracks from their debut, Gordon, Steven Page sings about a dream where he's 300 pounds and floats until he can't see the ground. Lost in thought, he's burdened by "thinking about what to think about," just like bed-ridden rock recluse Brian Wilson. On Maroon, the band's fifth studio album, Page may be falling in the opposite direction, this time burdened by blunt reality. "I'm gaining strength, trying to learn to pull my own weight," he sings. "But I'm gaining pounds at the precipice of Too Late."

That's a relatively apt summation for the lyrical mood of Page and Ed Robertson - the band's two primary songwriters - on this record, despite the continued presence of BNL's typically pristine and upbeat compositions. For most of the band's decade-long career, it's been all shits and giggles. This is a band whose fans throw Kraft dinner (macaroni and cheese for those south of the Canadian border) at them during performances of "If I Had $1,000,000."

Macaroni tossers beware: Maroon won't feel as lighthearted as other entries in the BNL catalog. Nowhere is this change more apparent than on the cutesy, "Day in the Life"-like album-closer, "Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel." Over banjo picks and organ-grinder music, Page tells a first-person account of a fatal car wreck and its aftermath. The wit remains - Page calls the fireman "Slow Motion Walter" and laments about the "idiot" observers - but in a rather depressing context.

Other topics touched upon include adultery ("Off the Hook"), failed careers ("Sell, Sell, Sell"), empty romance ("Conventioneers"), and general indecisiveness ("Falling for the First Time," "Baby Seat"). Instead of being the focus, humor simply cuts into the intensity of the lyrical messages, like the random insertion of "I just made you say underwear" into "Pinch Me." Maroon evokes one question: Can these clowns cross over into drama? Maybe it's time to trade in Brian Wilson for Tom Hanks as their muse.