Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Barenaked Ladies come back spinning, sliding, and avoiding the center drain with Silverball

Ed Robertson described Barenaked Ladies’ new “Silverball” as the first stress free album they’ve made since Steven Page’s departure - an album they actually had fun writing.  And it shows.  In the years since Barenaked Ladies originally formed, much has changed in the lives of the 4 remaining members.  In the intervening years, all have married and had children, and have grown as people and as musicians.  At the apex of their fame, Kevin Hearn fought a razor-edge battle with leukemia and won, against all odds.  This leaves what you might call a daunting task - how to make music that captures the wit and humor they are known for, but still sound like 4 men who have grown and matured so much since their debut.  On “Silverball” the “ladies” pull it off with ease.


All it takes to prove that handily is one listen to the album’s title track - a sly blending of Robertson’s love of pinball and a love song that would sound sappy coming out of just about any other band.  Here though, they manage to pull it off - really, who else but Barenaked Ladies could get away with a line like “Light me up and knock me down / I’m free game whenever you’re around.”  Not many, that’s for sure.  And considering the ease, the joy they found in making this record, it shows right from the opening “Get Back Up” which quite easily plays as a metaphor for the troubled, strained development of this album’s predecessor “Grinning Streak” - and their desire to come back swinging in the next round.  Robertson spoke in interviews of the negativity swirling around the group since Page’s departure.  Where Grinning Streak felt muted, stifled even, Silverball explodes with color just as effervescent as the pinball-machine-themed cover art on the case.  This album also brings a welcome return of Robertson yielding vocal duties more willingly.  Whether it’s Creeggan’s name-dropping ode to Toronto in “Narrow Streets”, or Kevin Hearn’s 1-2 punch (“Passcode” is the sprightly rocker, where “Tired Of Fighting With You” is the kind of heartache ballad that suits Hearn’s voice so well.

The evolution of this band shows even more so in their more mature take on love.  Where “Gordon” was filled with goofy larks about 1 night stands, leering teenagers, and all the madness in between, here the theme is all about reality.  Yes, this may be an album made by 4 married men, but as even the happiest among us realizes, that doesn’t take away the basic understanding that yes, love makes a real mess out of life sometimes.  This is easy to find in the rather obvious metaphor for that in the peppy “Piece of Cake” or “Here Before.”  And as always, they are still masters of sly tricks with lyrics.  This comes out on each song that makes you wonder - is what I just heard actually a lament for love lost.... or are they still slinging subtle jabs at Steven Page, 3 albums out since his departure?  Save for being able to point blank ask Robertson which of the 2 is really going on, it can be hard to tell at times.  Getting that answer would spoil the fun anyways, and would overshadow the fact that this is a solid, end to end amazing effort from BNL.  If you count yourself among those who had almost given up on them after “Grinning Streak,” consider this your give them another shot order - you won’t be disappointed.


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