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Are Men - Barenaked Ladies

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Genre: Rock / Artist: Barenaked Ladies / Enhanced / Audio CD released 2007-02-12 at Nettwerk

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      26.07.2007 14:25
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      (parts of this review, particularly those detailing release formats, borrow from my review of "Barenaked Ladies Are Me")

      The second, and generally more upbeat, half of the "BLAM" recording sessions, "Barenaked Ladies Are Men" is effectively the second CD of a double album (the first being "Barenaked Ladies Are Me"). Less successful in the charts than its predecessor - it missed the US top 100 and UK top 75, and only managed #39 in the band's native Canada - it's actually the stronger of the two discs, and is incontrovertable proof - should we need it - that the band's songwriting skills have indeed come of age - Barenaked Ladies Are Men, indeed.

      Things kick off with a lovely, textured "Pet Sounds"-esque tune, "Serendipity". It's not as subdued as its predecessor's opener "Adrift" but it's still a relaxing, nostalgic ("So long ago on a summer day, I put my best shirt on / I took you to a matinee with money from mowing lawns") summery song.

      "Something You'll Never Find" is a rock'n'roll roller-coaster of a song. Set at a surprisingly frantic pace, it tells of "looking for something that you'll never find", incorporating plenty of the Ladies' trademark fun wordplay ("Could you be the one who will find that it's fine if it's not in me?")

      "One and Only" follows, perhaps the weakest track of the set. A singer-songwriter type ballad, it adds layers and texture in a bid to grab your attention but is largely forgettable (I had to play it again to remind myself of it for this review, yet I'd already played it fifteen times in the past few months!) Lyrically, things are fine - nice and poignant as so many of the band's best are ("See, I know I'm lost and lonely / Please go slow; I'm one and only") but this isn't one to return to time after time.

      Thankfully, "Angry People" is a real turn up for the books. Vaguely reminiscent of their earlier "It's All Been Done". and immensely catchy and joyous, it's somewhere between They Might Be Giants (the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with playful music) and The Polyphonic Spree (the happy Wall-of-Sound style backing and the brilliantly hooky chorus). The lyrics are shockingly cynical, biting and on-the-button ("Angry people think a good solution is getting others involved / So they surround themselves with happy people and watch their smiles dissolve ") but the ELO-esque backing music and catchy tune will have you singing along despite the sentiment.

      "Down to Earth" is another great. Strong, catchy rock, it's BNL in their forte once again showcasing delightful turns of phrase ("it's all bark and no tree") alongside a hummable, upbeat slice of Crowded House-tinged pop. It leads into a fine slower track, "Beautiful", which has been described as "Burt Bacharach-inflected" and retains a lovely, tenative melody alongside some wonderfully romantic lyrics.

      "Running Out of Ink" is similar in tone to "Something You'll Never Find" - a non-stop marathon of a catchy rocker with incisive, literate lyrics that use "running out of ink" as a metaphor for relationship problems - "it's bleaker than you think / I'm running out of ink / This is what it takes to drive a man to drink". After this, we're back to the more downbeat with the superbly moving "Half A Heart", a poignant and well-observed tale of life spiralling down and out; a less specific "War on Drugs" or "Wrong Man Was Convicted". It proves that Barenaked Ladies can do the emotion just as well as the They Might Be Giants-esque fun and wit.

      "Maybe Not" continues the run of alternating upbeat tracks and ballads, an upbeat tale of confusion and denial at the end of a relationship. It's not as hard-rocking as "Down to Earth" nor as overly poppy as "Angry People" but it's still a fun up-tempo rocker, even if at times it feels a bit by-the-numbers. The wordplay shines as much as ever though: "And we can argue 'till our throats are sore about how far you take a metaphor / You always deign to see the glass half filled / But now it seems to me the half glass spilled." "I Can I Will I Do" is a mid-tempo folk-ballad, which sees Ed Robertson sing the likes of the simple yet powerful line "you don't think I can love you / but I can, I will and I do" to immense effect.

      "Fun and Games" is next - perhaps the most explcitly political song the Ladies have ever written. At first I was wary - while BNL are known for juxtaposing harsh sentiment with jingly tunes, at least then there's the obtuse witty wordplay to fall back on. Here, there's no leeway - this song is about the Iraq war. Sung from the point of view of a political leader (presumably President Bush?), it's biting and unrelenting in its criticism, suggesting the war was "a gag, all for a laugh", the Government "knew your sons and daughters would be blown in half" and feel there's no need to draft people as "the poor and black all need the room and board". It's also a cautionary tale - at one point the song "breaks down" and our vocalist reels off a list of the potentil perils of re-electing such Governments:

      "In a while our Bill of Rights will be rejected,
      and all the blame will be deflected,
      the forests will be unprotected,
      the nation's poor will be neglected,
      creation myth is resurrected,
      a new salute is genuflected,
      the Gallup polls will be respected,
      a gallows pole will be erected,
      and all this will go undetected.."

      As I say, it was originally quite jarring to hear the contrast between tone and content here, but after a few listens you get used to it and it goes on to become one of the strongest songs on the album - if you share their political sentiment, you'll find every line a distressingly accurate reflection of the current political climate; but even if you don't, there's a hell of a catchy rock song on offer here.

      "The New Sad" is perhaps the saddest song on here (no surprise, given the title). "Everybody knows that happy is the new sad / So I am gonna go and imitate my old dad / And never crack a smile again" - it's almost soul-destroying, an effect compounded by what comes across to me as a valiant - but ultimately unsuccessful - attempt to come across confidently: genius on the part of the band.

      "Quality" is a personal favourite of mine. It's not quite clear exactly what, who or why is "serving up quality that can't be beat" we are told of but it's a fantastic song, darker than the likes of "Angry People" and "Down to Earth" while retaining a catchy rhythm and funky sing-along chorus. It also utilises the words "mirology", "biology", "technology", "theology", "cosmology", "radiology" and "etymology" - and if that's not the mark of a 'quality' song, I don't know what is!

      "Another Spin" recalls the opening track in its similarities to the likes of The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds". It's a great fusion of jazz, pop, rock and electric guitar with some lovely vocal layering and a nice clap-along chorus. The lyrics fall a little short of the band's usual standards - the seemingly random decisions to include Berlin and Afghanistan in the descriptions of "giv[ing] the globe another spin" don't quite gel with me - but it's a fine listen.

      The album closes out with a solid upbeat double. "What A Letdown" and "Why Say Anything Nice?" Thankfully, "What A Letdown" is most certainly not a letdown, it's an series of amusing observations in the vein of their earlier "Never Is Enough" (albeit slightly more obtuse this time around); while "Why Say Anything Nice?" turns that old adage of "if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all" right on its head to become a solid, if unremarkable closing rocker. It's a fun end to the album.

      "Barenaked Ladies Are Men" is available in a variety of formats, some of which include it with its "other half", "Barenaked Ladies Are Me", some of which don't. The album was formally released on CD (but not vinyl, as its predecessor was) as a standalone in early 2007, but was available from Starbucks in Canada from late 2006. You can also buy it as a two-pack with "Barenaked Ladies Are Me". 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.)

      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!

      The album is sixteen tracks and 61 minutes long (three tracks and 23 minutes longer than its counterpart) and all CD versions are (apparently environmentally-friendly) solid card digipaks with lyrics booklet included. The artwork of both is detailed and intricate, while retaining a childlike . Each depicts a collage of many of the images contained in the enclosed album's lyrics alongside seemingly random, but lovingly crafted, explosions of colour and pattern.

      The album is superb, and is even better than its counterpart, featuring a standout array of solid rock songs. It's definitely not the 'reject collection' you might be expecting. But again, you're on your own when choosing which version(s) to buy (I bought the CD versions of both this and "Barenaked Ladies Are Me").

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  • Product Details

    Disc #1 Tracklisting
    1 Serendipity
    2 Something You'll Never Find
    3 One And Only
    4 Angry People
    5 Down To Earth
    6 Beautiful
    7 Running Out Of Ink
    8 Half A Heart
    9 Maybe Not
    10 I Can I Will I Do
    11 Fun And Games
    12 New Sad
    13 Quality
    14 Another Spin
    15 What A Letdown
    16 Why Say Anything Nice