Barenaked Ladies strip down to essentials: fun rock n'roll

by Erik Tanouye | 8/17/98 5:00am

The Barenaked Ladies are pretty much the only band around that knows how to make rock music fun.

Now we're not talking about pop music here, because there's plenty of fun pop out there. But if you're looking for good solid, angst-free rock that can laugh at itself without the polka trappings of They Might Be Giants, Canada's mighty Barenaked Ladies are your best bet.

"One Week," the opening track and first single from the band's new album "Stunt," has gotten more airplay than any of its previous releases and showcases the best of what the band has to offer.

In between the catchy recollection of a lovers' tiff runs a jokingly forced rap about all things pop culture: "Like Kurasawa, I make mad films / Okay, I don't make films / But if I did they'd have a Samurai."

This is, of course, a band that has previously scored with songs focusing on Yoko Ono and kooky Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

"Stunt" may have love songs, but they're not in the Celine Dion vein. "Alcohol," in addition to a great pounding rhythm, looks beyond overwrought questions of addiction to find a soul-mate elsewhere -- "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."

The straight-ahead rock songs are good for any occasion. "It's All Been Done" is a happy love song that realizes it does nothing new, but at least has fun doing it. "Never is Enough" and "Who Needs Sleep?" provide some of the catchiest choruses on the album.

Barenaked Ladies' ballads are always good, but in the past have tended to slow down the records too much. That's not the case this time out.

"Light Up My Room" and "Call and Answer" are both strong and well-sequenced on the album. "Leave" could have been one ballad too many on the album's first half, but it has enough country twang and Crosby, Stills & Nash-style vocals to keep it from being a downer.

Only "When You Dream" has the slow lethargy of some earlier songs, but it certainly isn't enough to drag the album down alone.

The record's second half is just as stocked with good material as the first half: a fact that makes it almost twice as good as their last studio album, "Born on a Pirate Ship."

"Stunt" is also better for the addition of 'new guy' Kevin Hearn who played on the live "Rock Spectacle" album, but hits the studio for the first time here on guitar, keyboards, banjo, accordion, synth, melodica and even the klavinet.

His electronic sounds add much needed variety to Steven Page and Ed Robertson's trademark heavy acoustic strumming sounds on "Alcohol" and "Leave."

The album's masterpiece, however, is "In the Car," a nostalgic look at the past which is at the same time touching, daring and hysterical.

In the song, an early physical relationship is recalled along with the materials of the world it existed in: the car, the girl's mother's house, the books and records the two once enjoyed.

"In the Car" also features one of the most inventive lyrics of the decade: "In the Car / It was mostly mutual masturbation / And though we spoke of penetration / I'd have to wait for someone else to try it out."

Finally, the speaker imagines his ex-girlfriend discovering the secret he reveals in the lyrics as she listens to the song "on a tape inside her car with her new husband, and she turns to him and says 'I think that's me.'"

The song's honest look at young lovers ("We groped for excuses /Not to be alone anymore") works because it remembers the details as they were and not as they should have been, as when the girl feeds the speaker strawberries and freezer-burned ice cream.

"Stunt" is probably the band's best album yet. It accomplishes all it sets out to do. And if not all the songs are profound and depressing, that's okay because life is too short to not have as much fun as the Barenaked Ladies seem to have.

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