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Are Me - Barenaked Ladies

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Genre: Rock / Artist: Barenaked Ladies / Audio CD released 2006-09-11 at Nettwerk

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      26.07.2007 11:47
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      Barenaked Ladies Are.. still on top of their game

      ..the band, that is, not actual barenaked ladies.

      The Barenaked Ladies are unfortunately remembered by most in the UK and the USA for their 1999 novelty hit "One Week". Despite retaining a chart presence in their native Canada even now, they never really had any follow-up hits elsewhere, and that mediocre pop-rap is their legacy to most of the world.

      Take this album, for example. Released last year (2006), it reached #7 in the Canadian album charts but barely scraped the top 20 in the USA and didn't even manage the top 75 over here in the UK. It's a crying shame, as if you delve into the "BNL" back catalogue you'll be rewarded with some of the most enjoyable pop-rock of recent years, and this 13-track, 48-minute LP is a fine example of it.

      The album begins with the most mellow album-opener the Ladies have released to date. "Adrift" is the name and soothing is the game - it's a wonderfully calm, relaxed ballad that hints at journying home on a dark winter's night, with both heart and eyelids heavy ("Your heart's got a heavy load / There's still a long way to go / Keep your eyes on the road..") It's not your typical Barenaked Ladies track but despite (or thanks to?) its subdued nature it's probably the most powerful song on the record.

      "Bank Job" is the album's second track. The wittiest, sharpest song on the album, it tells of a bank robbery going wrong when they discover that it's populated with nuns. How can you dislike a song that features the lyrics "It should have been filled with the usual ones throwing their cash into mutual funds / We all had our ski masks and sawed-off shotguns, but how do you plan for a bank full of nuns?" Everything works, from the simple rhyming couplets to the sparse backing music and the closing refrain of "We all did our best now / we all need to rest now.."

      "Sound Of Your Voice" is the album's first true rocker. "If I had a wish / or even a choice / I'd wake up to the sound of your voice". Eminently catchy and densely backed, it fades into a lovely outro akin to that of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now". "Easy", the next track, was the album's first single, and I can't really see why. It's enjoyable enough but if they wanted a mid-tempo soft rock song to promote the release there are certainly better choices here. Still, they blend the emotional side of things with their trademark wit well enough.

      "Home" recalls the album opener, "Adrift", though it's probably the more fully scored of the two. Melancholy and moving, sharp, emotional, "one last shot" lyrics such as "What could I do but call you? / What could I do but call this home?" elevates this one to the upper echelons of the album.

      "Bull In A China Shop" is probably the best "pop" song on the record. The Ladies' irascible wit and social satire is present and on form - "I'm the reason I don't go out / I'm afraid I might sell me something / I'm the shadow of every doubt / I'm the product this song's about / I'm the product this song's about to be" - and the song is a rollercoaster ride of catchy hooks and sharp turns of phrase.

      "Everything had Changed" is a rather folky tune that appears to the Ladies' interpretation of that old adage, "you can't go home again". The repeated refrain of "Everything had changed, everything was strange" is strangely relaxing and segues nicely into track 8, "Peterborough and the Kawarthas", which features lead vocals by Jim Creeggan, usually the bass player rather than the singer. It's similar in tone to "Everything Had Changed", though the music is denser - there are some nice backing vocals - and the lyrics rather more obtuse ("Bird, book, and basketball / Squirrel, dog, and learning how to crawl / I found my heart when he came / Let my leaving leave like rain").

      "Maybe You're Right" follows. "Shall I take back everything I've ever said and lead my whole life in silence instead?" the lyrics ask in this slow builder of a song that starts off as a quiet piano-driven ballad and builds into something much bigger, more symphonic. "Take It Back" is, by contrast, a far more measured song - somewhere in between the previous two tracks in both tone and tempo. It's poignant in its simplicity - "If I said something to make you mad I will take it back".

      "Vanishing" gives pianist/guitarist Kevin Hearn a shot at taking the lead vocal reins. His singing style is very different to the rest of the band, but his calming, slightly high-pitched enunciation really add to this song's mystical, magical atmosphere (indeed, he even sings of "a magician / hoping, wishing / and you're the one vanishing"). Like a darker, more sinister "Adrift", it's subdued yet gripping.

      "Rule The World With Love" is a brilliant pop-rock gem. Driven at different points by both piano and guitar, it has a typically witty, circular chorus ("Hearts are won, empires fall in love with love / Love will conquer All for one One for All is fair in love and war / Love and war are one[won]") but the song's key draw is, once again, that lovely juxtaposition of melancholy lyrics with catchy, jangling melodies.

      "Wind It Up" rounds out the album. It's another all-out rocker in the vein of "Sound Of Your Voice" that sees angular rhythms and clever guitar work meet more amusing lyrics: "Hearts on fire, you'll learn / End up with heartburn". I'm not a huge fan of the song, preferring the Ladies to stay slightly calmer, but it's enjoyable enough.

      "Barenaked Ladies Are Me" is the first half of what are colloquially known as the "BLAM" recording sessions (the second half was released as "Barenaked Ladies Are Men"). The recording sessions were undoubtedly productive - after all, the Ladies got two albums out of them - but it's also led to a complicated staggered release schedule. I'll try to explain.

      This album was released in late 2006 as a standalone CD (or vinyl). You can also now buy it as a two-pack with "Barenaked Ladies Are Men". You can buy it on iTunes - if you buy the whole album, you get two bonus tracks. (If you buy both of the albums in full, you get four bonus tracks). You can also buy a DVD-Audio version with both albums in 5.1 Surround Sound (but you can't buy the albums separately in DVD-Audio format). Finally, you can buy a USB key entitled "Barenaked Ladies Are USB" which features both albums in full, the four bonus tracks, and various other multimedia goodies (videos, promo photos, etc.)

      To summarise, if you want all the main tracks from both albums, you should buy the "Barenaked Ladies Are Me/Men" double-pack, though buying both CDs separately will also be alright (it will work out as more expensive though). If you desperately want the bonus tracks, the iTunes download and USB key are the way to go. Phew! And that's without detailing the standalone releases of "Barenaked Ladies Are Men".. that's a whole different review.

      All CD versions are (apparently environmentally-friendly) solid card digipaks with lyrics booklet included.

      The album is a very good one, and comes highly recommended from me - though you're on your own when choosing which versions to buy (I bought the CD versions of both this and "Barenaked Ladies Are Men).

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Adrift
      2 Bank Job
      3 Sound Of Your Voice
      4 Easy
      5 Home
      6 Bull In A China Shop
      7 Everything Had Changed
      8 Peterborough And The Kawarthas
      9 Maybe You're Right
      10 Take It Back
      11 Vanishing
      12 Rule The World With Love
      13 Wind It Up