SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ladies, Fastball, The Presidents
Return of the one-hit wonders

By DAVID JOHN FARINELLA, Special to CNN Interactive, CNN, September 19th, 2000.

(CNN) - There's no better welcome to the music universe than a hit song.

Everybody knows your name, your song is blasting from radios across the nation and you're the toast of the town. It's dizzying, to be sure. But what happens three months later? A year later? The drop from the A-list is as heartbreaking as the rise is exhilarating.

This week Barenaked Ladies, Fastball and The Presidents (formerly known as The Presidents of the United States of America) attempt to move back up to at least the B-list.

Barenaked Ladies - Maroon

The problem with being the funny guy at the party is that everyone waits for the punchline. No matter how serious the story, there's got to be a chuckle. So, when Barenaked Ladies start singing about life's up and downs on "Maroon" it's hard to take them seriously. On the plus side, "Maroon" includes some distinctive BNL tunes that blend big pop choruses with memorable sing-along lines.

Unfortunately, the 12-song collection also includes some of the most cliched pop music released this year. Songs like "Go Home," "Falling For The First Time" and "Conventioneers" blend the cheesiest of Burt Bacharach with the worst of the Moody Blues. The group is better than what is presented here. Perhaps it would like to outgrow its satirical moniker - but if this is the result, BNL may want to reconsider.

Fastball - The Harsh Light of Day

From top to bottom, Fastball's "The Harsh Light of Day" is a gem. The entire album is solid, with highlights that include "This Is Not My Life," "Whatever Gets You On" and "Love is Expensive and Free."

As soon as it seems like the lads are about to drop into schlock ("Don't Give Up On Me" threatens to do just that) they somehow pull away at the last minute, and come out stronger for it. And rather than reverting to the tried and true formula of their No. 1 "The Way," singer/guitarist Miles Zuniga, singer/bassist Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Shuffield pushed themselves with this second effort.

Historical touchstones include Elvis Costello & The Attractions ("You're An Ocean"), the Beatles ("This Is Not My Life") and Squeeze ("Whatever Gets You On").

The "The Harsh Light of Day" may not be revolutionary, but it's not complacent, either.

The Presidents - Freaked Out and Small

As one of the most distinctive bands to hit the airwaves in 1995, The Presidents of the United States of America burst out with such quirky pop numbers as "Lump" and "Peaches." The band's 1995 album pushed the group a bit more toward the mainstream - but not enough to keep the band on the radio. After releasing two albums, the group disbanded in 1997.

Three years later, singer/bassist Chris Ballew, guitarist/singer Dave Dederer and drummer Jason Finn return with "Freaked Out and Small," a collection of songs that combine elements from their goofy debut and rocking follow-up.

Highlights from the latest album include the surf-laced numbers "Last Girl On Earth" and "Jupiter," as well as the zany "Death Star."

Thanks to the abundance of cliched hip-rock on the airwaves these days, the Presidents' reemergence is welcome indeed.