Forget Survivor: Get Marooned with Barenaked Ladies


Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


By Ross Greenawalt

BARENAKED LADIES:
"Maroon"
(Warner/Reprise, 2000)

Don Was is no stranger to the Follow-Up Record. His own band, Was (Not Was), flashed onto the nation's pop radar in 1988 with the ubiquitous "Walk the Dinosaur." Success like that is tough to repeat, and the band self-destructed not long after its next release. Was subsequently moved into the producer's seat, working with everyone from Dylan to the B-52's, Paula Abdul to the Rolling Stones. In 1989 he revitalized Bonnie Raitt's career, and became one of the most sought-after producers in the business (so I guess we should let him off the hook for his involvement in that whole Garth "Chris Gaines" Brooks thing last year).

That in mind, it's no surprise Canada's Barenaked Ladies tapped Was to produce the follow-up to their multiplatinum Stunt (1998) -- its lead single "One Week" as unavoidable that summer as "Walk the Dinosaur" a decade earlier. It's also no surprise that the resulting Maroon sounds fresher, hipper and more diverse than anything else in the Ladies' catalog. Like the lesser-known Beautiful South, who toured with the Ladies last year, the band's bouncy musical style belies the darker subject matter of the lyrics, including slothfulness and office affairs, selling out and breaking up, not to mention death and destruction. "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" closes the set with a first-person account of a fatal car wreck -- fellow Canadian Gordon "Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald" Lightfoot would be proud -- and anyone who can get you singing along to lyrics like “from the ceiling, my coffee cup drips / while out my window, the horizon does flips” deserves credit for it. Guitarist Ed Robertson, who co-wrote all but one track with lead singer Steven Page, is no slouch, nor is he a show-off -- if you want flashy guitar solos, you'll need to look elsewhere: make no mistake about it, this is a BAND.

No one's singled out for display, not even the underrated Page -- Robertson sings lead on several tracks, including the first single, "Pinch Me," and early pressings include a bonus track written & sung by Ladies keysman Kevin Hearn. Like XTC before them, Barenaked Ladies refuse to make a calculated move, instead continuing to experiment and grow when it would be safer to keep releasing "One Week" retreads for years (Sugar Ray, I’m talking to you). This isn't a band that needs to prove anything -- simply a band that enjoys making good music. If "One Week" was the perfect summer single, "Pinch Me" is the perfect autumn equivalent. It's classic Robertson material -- catchy, bouncy, with its hip-hop-inflected chorus vocals, stream-of-consciousness lyrics (not to mention the Ed Moment in the last verse: "I could hide out under there / I just made you say underwear"). Anyone who's seen the Ladies perform knows they can improvise a song like this on any given night, and Ed can drop the spontaneous rhyme with the best in the business. While Stunt captured the band's live energy better, there's still a lot of fun to be had here, be it a subtle reference to a recent BNL b-side at the beginning of "Never Do Anything," the OJ jokes in "Sell Sell Sell," or the twisting one-liners throughout "Falling for the First Time" ("I'm so cool, too bad I'm a loser / I'm so smart, too bad I can't get anything figured out").

Was keeps the Ladies' Power Folk sound intact while spicing it up with his trademark production values, and the band does its part by penning some of its most memorable tunes, growing up a little more but refusing to let go of its inner children. It's easy to dismiss a band after an overplayed single like "One Week," and it's easy for such a band to fall victim to the write-another-just-like-that-one game. Maroon, however, proves that one hit does not a one-hit wonder make.



When he's not picking on his guitar, and putting together his monthly comedy newsletter, Ross finds the time to be the senior producer-director at KOTV Channel 6.