3D Great Rock Bible
Barenaked Ladies iTunes Tracks Barenaked Ladies Official Website

Barenaked Ladies

Proving that quirky North American alt-pop combos can compete within the serious confines of the rock scene, the incredibly strange BARENAKED LADIES didn’t reach a level of international status until 1998’s `One Week’ smash hit; before then they had never cultivated their talents outside their native Canada. Armed with an arsenal of pedigree songs up to that point; `If A Had $1,000,000’, `Brian Wilson’ and `Be My Yoko Ono’, among their earliest comical sprouts, the eclectic BNL were performance driven and turn-ons with campus kids looking for a bit of frivolous fun. Fans of the hilarious nerd-friendly TV sit-com, The Big Bang Theory (premiered in 2007), will know of their punk-y tongue-twisting theme toon.
BARENAKED LADIES were formed in Scarborough, Toronto in 1988 by songwriting college students Ed Robertson and Steven Page; they’d both initially cut their teeth in a RUSH covers band. Playing to college audiences as a warm-up for the odd comedian, the pair balanced their kooky act with intelligent novelty songs and banter, a union that went down well with most of the beer-swirling crowds; a demo cassette, `Buck Naked’, was circulated at gigs at the time. To add to the flavour of their routines, brothers Jim and Andy Creeggan (on double bass and keyboards respectively) were enlisted on the turn of the decade; a second cassette, `Barenaked Recess’ (1990), yielded the first homage to their BEACH BOYS idol, `Brian Wilson’.
Duly adding a fifth and vital element to their newfound rock status, in drummer Tyler Stewart,
demo cassette number three, `The Yellow Tape’ (1991), continued the hype and sold in bucket-loads in the native land; featuring their three best-known ditties, it garnered “gold” sales (the first independent release to do so) and was delivered to British shores as an eponymous EP for Cheree Records. BARENAKED LADIES (a moniker that Toronto mayor June Rowlands deemed sexist) decided to take their sublime blend of ska/scat/rap/folk to eager crowds in Europe and parts of Canada that didn’t ban them.
Following on from this minor indifference or indirect boost, the quirky quintet almost immediately signed a contract with Reprise Records, issuing the first album proper GORDON (1992) {*7}, which again delivered `Brian Wilson’, `Be My Yoko Ono’ and `If I Had $1,000,000’. Sharing vocal duties, acoustic guitarists Steven and Ed were no doubt influenced by THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, OINGO BOINGO and CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN, while their freewheeling jangle-pop sound lent toward MEN AT WORK, R.E.M. and The HOUSEMARTINS; `Enid’, `Grade 9’ and `Hello City’, perfect examples that would ensure BNL earned a No.1 spot in the official Canadian charts.
Produced by k.d. LANG associate, Ben Mink, sophomore set MAYBE YOU SHOULD DRIVE (1994) {*6}, included “serious” single `Jane’ and their gleeful attempt at a love song, `Alternative Girlfriend’, both now staple BARENAKED LADIES traits. Breaking into the US Top 200 for the first time (No.57 in the UK), the record was a blend of folky ballad-pop and accentuated alt-rock; all breezy attempts best served by `Life, In A Nutshell’, `Everything Old Is New Again’.
With Andy out of the picture to fit in a college degree abroad, Kevin Hearn (keys/guitar) was drafted in to take his place on a joint tour with Brit-folk star, BILLY BRAGG; he was promoted to full-time member soon afterwards. Although making inroads towards bigger sales in the US through exposure as celebrity band on Beverly Hills 90210, the disappointing BORN ON A PIRATE SHIP (1996) {*5}, set them back a tad. Having steadily climbed into the US Top 100 with their first Stateside hit, `The Old Apartment’, the following spring, it was a live re-tread of the `Brian Wilson’ track that produced even better results. Appearances on various talk shows, including Showbiz Today and The David Letterman Show, helped the band receive international acclaim (with a televised New Year’s party apparently reaching a drunken riotous plateau). By the release of their Top 100 concert album, ROCK SPECTACLE (1997) {*7}, BNL were now reaching the mainstream by selling out dates across America and Europe.
After a well deserved break, BARENAKED LADIES embarked on what was to become their breakthrough instalment: STUNT (1998) {*7}, which was released to great critical and commercial acclaim – of course its Top 3 success arrived after the aforementioned transatlantic Top 5 hit, `One Week’. The platter displayed an old-fashioned formula while using rimshot drums with nifty rap and a melodic break, where lead singer Robertson described life’s little mishaps and misfortunes after a one-night stand; Page delivered on subsequent hits, `It’s All Been Done’ and `Call And Answer’, when the album was gaining further Top 20 ground in Old Blighty. All in all, an entertaining single and an equally good album, where BNL had proved themselves to MOR audiences whilst suffering a post ironic chump-change.
Meanwhile, the news that Hearn was in and out of hospital after being diagnosed with leukaemia was serious enough to side-line the multi-instrumentalist; Greg Kurstin (of GEGGY TAH) and, in turn, Chris Brown, played their part in completing the “Stunt” tour schedule. With a bone marrow transplant a success, Hearn was again in the band full-time having rid himself of the cancer. The lads duly roped in production maverick DON WAS for fifth studio set, the Juno-award-winning MAROON (2000) {*6}. A potentially very interesting combination that never quite lived up to its promise, hits such as `Pinch Me’ and the minor `Too Little Too Late’, helped keep it high in the charts.
Nonetheless, the ‘Ladies vital signs – irrepressible enthusiasm, crafty rhythmic trickery, offbeat humour and all round musical high jinks – were in rude health, a late 2001 compilation consolidating the impression that the Canadians had successfully perfected the experiment they began more than a decade ago. A new decade proper, and a new post-9/11 era made for the band’s most thoughtful and less zany album to date, EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE (2003) {*6}; their contract with Reprise now fulfilled. In its shrewdly aimed, smoothed-off lyrical barbs and topical subject matter, there were definite signs of a preoccupation with weightier issues. The humour was still there for sure, although it was tempered by encroaching post-collegiate middle age and occasionally even missing completely, as on the no-messing `War On Drugs’.
Label-less and in need of an injection from some source, BNL opted for the only decent solution, and that was to found their own record imprint (Desperation). Able to ply their trade on anything that seemed worthwhile, it was an awkward yet transitional one for the once-exciting band. Loyal fans would stick by their band as they trawled through dispensable albums such as the festive BARENAKED FOR THE HOLIDAYS (2004) {*5} – combining Xmas and Hanukkah dirges, the Shakespearean mini AS YOU LIKE IT (2005) {*5} and a series of bootlegging-the-bootleggers live offerings, culminating with 2007’s TALK TO THE HAND: LIVE IN MICHIGAN (*5}.
Squeezed somewhere in between these ventures, comeback album BARENAKED LADIES ARE ME (2006) {*7}, and the accompanying BARENAKED LADIES ARE MEN (2007) {*6}, confirmed the group had been no slouches in the songwriting department. Top 20 in America, the disc(s) displayed their caustic wit and post-R.E.M.-meets-THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS-esque sounds throughout; check out `Bull In A China Shop’, `Peterborough And The Kawarthas’, `Bank Job’ and Hearn’s two: `Vanishing’ and `Sound Of Your Voice’.
On the back of the commendable but wibbly-wobbly kiddies set, SNACKTIME! (2008) {*5}, Steven Page was now posted missing on BNL’s umpteenth “proper” album delivery: ALL IN GOOD TIME (2010) {*6}. A return to the US Top 30, Robertson, Hearn, Creeggan and Stewart were serious in their attempts to break free from the novelty/joker tag. If the tracks `I Have Learned’, the heartfelt ballad `You Run Away’, the grungy-pop `Summertime’ and `Watching The Northern Lights’ were anything to go by, then their growth toward maturity (with the exception of the rap-fuelled `Four Seconds’) was in full flow.
Probably Vanguard Records’ first Top 10 set since who-knows-when, GRINNING STREAK (2013) {*7}, deserved its critical appraisal. In times when austerity played a big part in the global economy, the fully-dressed 40-somethings BARENAKED LADIES shed little of their songcraft talent on several candy-coated, gift-wrapped gems, including `Boomerang’, `Off His Head’, `Smile’ and the joker-in-the-pack, `Did I Say That Out Loud?’.
14 albums in on the release of 2015’s Gavin Brown-produced SILVERBALL {*7}, BARENAKED LADIES were always safe soft-rock bets to create nothing out of the ordinary – just nice, FM-friendly songs. Inspired by Ed Robertson’s obsession with pinball machines, his sweet, melody-addled vocals pluck the heartstrings on the EAGLES-meets-BEACH BOYS-like `Say What You Want’, `Toe To Toe’, or even the “We Will Rock You”-beat of the classy `Here Before’. With an easy flick of the wrist, each maturing musician help in making clap-handed anthems out of `Get Back Up’, `Duct Tape Heart’, `Matter Of Time’ and the WARREN ZEVON-esque title track.
With a handful of Silverball tracks showing up on concert album, BNL ROCKS RED ROCKS (2016) {*7} – referring to their “Last Summer On Earth” tour of 2015 at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre – BARENAKED LADIES left no rock number unturned on an array of greatest hits. From the funky and groovy `One Week’, `The Old Apartment’, `Brian Wilson’ and `If I Had $1,000,000’ to TV’s `Big Bang Theory Theme’ and a re-vamp of MEN AT WORK’s `Who Can It Be Now?’ (featuring a stint by supporter COLIN HAY), the Canadians proved their popularity was still global.
© MC Strong 2000-2004/GRD / rev-up MCS Jun2013-Jun2016

Share this Project

Leave a Comment