Sunday, June 23, 2013

BNL's new "Grinning Streak" may not have you grinning that much

With Grinning Streak, the “ladies” prove they are still able to hold together with their 2nd album since splitting with Steven Page.  It sounds good enough, but this time around it’s a bit too much like “The Ed Robertson show featuring Barenaked Ladies.”

“All In Good Time” was a somber, broken-hearted record.  It was BNL in mourning at the gaping hole left in their lineup by Page’s departure.  Against all odds, it was still a great record.  Page’s departure gave room for Creggan and Hearn to step in and write + sing lead on more tracks than they would otherwise do.  “Grinning Streak” seems to scuttle this one big happy family dynamic and goes back to an all-Robertson album, save for 1 track sung by Kevin Hearn.  That aside, how is the album itself?

It starts off with some light mellow-blurb electronica touches opening up “Limits”, a song which is a steady-moving typical latter-day BNL ballad.  It’s just ok.  Lead single and much better track “Boomerang” shows up next, and their dry, sardonic wit is on full display, tongue firmly planted in cheek (“Despite the pretty dress and curls / you don’t throw like other girls / you follow through.”)  “Off his head” is tuneful enough, but the repetitive hook/chorus fills make it a bit of a mess.  “Gonna Walk” follows with a dogged-determination “in-the-pursuit-of-romance” number.  This track feels (like a few others on here do) that they are near to running out of ideas for new music.  It may just be the simple law of only so many combinations of notes and chords that can exist on the instruments they play, but this and others feel like echoes of chords we've heard before - and of course these are chords heard on their more successful albums.  “Odds Are” is one of the better tracks - it still suffers from that too-familiar-chords problem, but it’s as close as they’ve come in a while to matching the free-flowing skittering speed-lyrics they pulled off in 1998 on Stunt.  Things get really interesting with the almost-country “angry-stomp” they pull off on “Keepin’ It Real” - another track that begs the are-they-or-aren’t they throwing a subtle jab at Page question.  It's a step into more aggressive territory than what usually makes up a typical BNL release.

Other critics have maligned “Did I Say That Out Loud?” as one of the album’s mis-steps - far from it.  A toe-tapping beat, just enough electro-percussive flourishes sweeping around behind them, and it’s a catchy ode to puppy love as only the Barenaked ladies can do it.  It’s followed up by a track that suffers from sequence more than it does for quality.  Kevin Hearn has a fragile, beautiful voice - a voice that lends itself to what his songs have often been - the album closer (such as he was on the last disc with “Watching the northern lights”) here it just comes off jarring to go from the quiet reflection of that track into the still-enjoyable banjo+clap flecked “Smile.”  Both of them are good tracks, just maybe not sequenced nearly as well as they could be.

Robertson/Creggan/Hearn/Stewart have been playing too long to be bad - this is a well-played album by accomplished musicians.  But just as with the last - there is something missing with Page not around.  Others have called the 2 post page albums as "BNL Growing up."  Growing up and losing a sense of whimsy are 2 different things.  They proved with the tunes on "Everything to Everyone" that they could balance growing up with the whimsy and wit they've always been known for (check the brutal honesty of one of Page's lead vocals from that disc "War On Drugs.")  Now the music they make still has the wit, but takes itself a bit too seriously - making for a "just ok" Barenaked ladies release.

No comments:

Post a Comment