CoS Exclusive Features

Wait, You’ve Never Heard: Barenaked Ladies’ Everything to Everyone

on January 18, 2010, 3:15am

This feature is all about owning up to not having heard an album before, or sometimes even the artiste. If you wile away your hours in bars, surrounded by the kind of guys that hang out in record stores the rest of the time, sniffing out (or even plain sniffing) old vinyl, you may have pretended to know all about something you actually haven’t heard. You maybe even chip in with the odd comment, “Of course, it’s not as good as their last…” Cheer up; there’s nothing wrong about working in IT and liking Marillion. Only don’t expect to meet girls. Or ladies for that matter.

Speaking of ladies, I have to confess that I had heard the ace Toronto band Bakenaked Ladies before, but I thought they’d only made one record, Stunt, and that was about 10 years ago. What happened before and after completely passed me by. Maybe they were wonders of the one-hit kind. Or they simply returned to the planet with all the best tunes. Stunt was a seriously good record, too, so it’s even more unforgivable that I hadn’t kept tabs on the band. Anyhow, just to prove it is quite possible not to know everything there is to know about popular music, I hadn’t heard of Barenaked Ladies before Stunt, and I heard nothing since then, until a few weeks ago, when our local church held its annual Christmas Bazaar. A better place also to meet girls than a Marillion concert.

There I was rifling through the CD bargain stall (thankfully unable to sniff vinyl), and there was Everything to Everyone by Barenaked Ladies. Thankfully the BNL cover caused no embarrassment to vendor or purchaser. Rather than an outré girl band, it depicted five clean cut guys in heroes of the republic pose alongside a white flag, though looking like they just exited a branch of Gap. I flipped it over to reveal a distant date, 2003, and had to buy it. At least two people stopped me on the way out and asked me if I knew other BNL albums I hadn’t heard of. I just kept muttering Stunt, in a voice not unlike that used by Justin Hoffman in “Rain Man”.

Much of Everything to Everyone is about the fake gloss of celebrity, commercialism, or corporate greed. It’s about how what you always want, or are told that you want, isn’t what you need. Opener “Celebrity” sets the tone. “All that’s left of me is my celebrity” is a great sentiment on the hollowness of it all. Next up, does consumer choice give you license to prevaricate over asking her out for a date? “Maybe Katie” says so. Then starting out like “Slim Shady”, “Another Postcard” reprises “One Week” from BNL’s biggest hit album, Stunt, in its semi-rap style. It’s that annoyingly catchy tune you can’t get out of your head, with clever- if superficially silly- lyrics about chimpanzees. I rationalize that BNL are smart enough for the monkey postcards to be a metaphor for unwanted direct mail. Then again, I think Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” might be about Tony Blair…

By song four, “Next Time”, you’re still waiting for a duff tune. Wrong. This is another corker and you can even waltz along to the verses. The country tinged “For You” brings a nice change of tempo and highlights BNL’s crisp close harmonies. Then “Shopping” hits with its whirlwind la-la-la’s and gets its point across straight off: “Everything will always be all right when we go shopping”. That’s about it, but it’s a bright tune and clever arrangement, though with more than enough repetition to work for the brain dead.

“Testing 1,2,3”, which follows, is an album stand-out with a classic BNL constructed melody, great dynamics, and funny-ironic lyrics, while “Upside Down” takes you back to the dance floor, this time for a tango. The next song is probably the finest on offer here. “War on Drugs” signifies a serious mood swing, a solemn reflection on human fragility. This is a powerful, compelling song that shows a sensibility wide apart from the wisecracking style the band frequently employs. The keyboard-driven “Aluminium” continues the reflections but with the focus shifted to the theme of appearance and reality: “You can shine like silver all you want but you’re just aluminum”.

“Unfinished” has strong Beach Boys overtones and is yet another great tune with signature bittersweet lyrics. Next, the breezy rocker “Second Best” provides a neat bridge to the wonderful “Take it Outside”, which has most of what you ever wanted from a pop song. The gentle, acoustic song “Have You Seen my Love?” makes a fine closer, seemingly more poignant now that singer and co-writer with Ed Robertson on most BNL songs, Stephen Page, quit the band earlier this year.

Everything to Everyone is a real treat: funny, touching, charming, and always really musical. The record reminds you that there aren’t many bands that write and perform pop songs consistently to such a high standard as Barenaked Ladies. Well, it would do that, if you knew all along that the band had made more than one album.

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