SameDiff BNL

Ladies Laid Bare(naked) By Empty Stunt

By NICK TANGBORN, SonicNet, August 12th, 1998.

Barenaked Ladies display their empty wares for all to see on Stunt.

I was at a party once in Minneapolis. We were standing around a band whose name I won't mention out of kindness. The lead singer, a real Anthony Kiedis wanna-be with braids and dumb glasses and his pants hanging around his ankles, was jumping around, flailing, pumping his outstretched hands, tilting his face and grimacing, apparently in the throes of some sort of funk-induced fit.

Then he grabbed me. He grabbed me by the lapels (if I had had lapels, anyway - I think he just grabbed a handful of shirt) and ordered, "Funk it up, motherfucker!"

That's how the Barenaked Ladies make me feel.

But they don't want me to "funk it up!" No sir, they want me to "feel good." And they're going to force me to "feel good" even if "feeling good" doesn't make feel good.

The whole notion of "feel-good" - of music or a film that aggressively manipulates you into a false sense of complacency and elation - irritates me anyway. It's like being forced to slam shots of whiskey, knowing full well that the giddy drunkenness that follows is short-lived and brutal in its departure, leaving you empty and pissed-off.

On their current hit single "One Week," the Barenaked Ladies run the gamut of arch, manipulative song structures, tossing a ridiculous, not-quite-funky guitar groove under not-quite-witty Bone-Thugs rapping, aided by a hootenanny of a chorus that practically screams, "Feel good, motherfucker!"

You can like it, you can sing along to it, you might not be able to get it out of your head. But if you let it take over your mind, if you give into what it so clearly wants from you, you're going to hate yourself later.

It's not just the inane, humor-by-way-of-pop-culture-references lyrics. And it's not just the contrived, calculated and insincere musicianship that underlines their "funny" songs.

It's the whole goddamn package!

It's the way the tune "Alcohol" pretends to tackle addiction seriously, with the dime-store philosophy "But now I know that there's a time/ and there's a place where I can choose/ To walk the fine line between/ self-control and self-abuse." It's the way that same tune hinges on a repetitive guitar riff and stomping beat while guitarist Steven Page sings those god-awful lyrics with his best Vegas strut. "Alcohol" may very well be the farthest rock 'n' roll has ever gotten from its roots, it's so thin and controlled and foul and soul-less.

They're They Might Be Giants without a sense of humor. They're the epitome of the "funny" band, which means, most likely, that you and I will most definitely not be laughing. And, as they clutch at our collective lapels, urging us to join in the fun, remember what a hangover feels like. I didn't "funk it up." I refuse to "feel good." You don't have to either.

Rating: ½ star (of 5).