All things in life change, that is always a given. Styles, cars, people, everything. Even bands change, or at least you hope they do. The ones that don’t often fall away into obscurity, while the ones that change too drastically typically flame out before they can find themselves. In their latest album, Grinning Streak released June 4th, Barenaked Ladies prove that a band can also grow up.
Full disclosure time: I’m a huge BNL fan. I own every one of their albums (including the two disc recording of when they came in concert for their Everywhere for Everyone tour, and even their Shoebox EP with enhanced CD videos). I’ve seen them every time they’ve come in concert with a single exception (this resulted in an argument which may or may not have contributed to the collapse of my last marriage). I’ve gone out of town to see them, and I have front row tickets to see them again in a couple weeks.
So I might be a little biased.
That being said, not all of their efforts have brought about the best results. After their insanely popular debut album Gordon was released in 1992 the group seemed to struggle with their next two albums, Maybe You Should Drive and Born on a Pirate Ship. Despite producing solid hits (including their now iconic “The Old Apartment”) neither album were able to recapture the same success as before.
Their big break in the United States came with their 1998 album, Stunt; an album which remains their most successful ever. From my personal standpoint, every single song on the album is incredible. Every last one. Following this we were blessed with an unrelenting parade of hits in Maroon (2000), Everything To Everyone (2003), Are Me (2006), and Are Men (2007). During this time they also released a holiday album and children’s album.
While each of these albums were good, they were receiving less and less airplay and were falling further from view in pop culture/music. Listening to Are Men, you could also start to hear some disconnect within the band; singers Page and Robertson were singing together less frequently and the band seemed to exploring their sound less. In 2009, Steven Page left the group and longtime fans were wondering what was going to happen to the group’s sound and dynamic.
In 2010, our question was answered with All in Good Time, an eclectic blend of musical styles that seemed to cover every conceivable type of music. While part of me was just thrilled to know that they were still going to be recording and creating, this was not Barenaked Ladies as I knew them. If I ever am so fortunate to speak with the band, I’m sure they will disagree . . . but it felt like a break-up album. Some songs had an element of anger in them, others had apathy, and some felt downright sad. Musically, it was still incredible and managed to hit their highest spot on charts since 2000. Emotionally, however, it felt lacking.
If one were to liken a band’s lifetime to that of a person, BNL’s is easy to chart:
- Gordon is the talented kid coming out and wowing everyone
- Maybe You Should Drive and Pirate Ship would be the still-talented child growing up and learning more, but wondering why people aren’t as easily impressed by everything they do
- Stunt is the now educated and talented teenager just becoming an absolute tour de force and carrying on throughout their young adult life
- All In Good Time is the 30 year old going through a divorce and wondering who they are all over again
If that sounds harsh, try to remember I don’t write many of these music reviews.
So where does that leave Grinning Streak, the whole point of this post? In my personal opinion, Grinning Streak is the band’s return to greatness. The sound is unmistakable BNL, with energy and elements that only they can pull off. The vocals that seemed uncertain in All Good Things have been filled in and are so spot on, you’d be forgiven for wondering where a fifth member would have ever fit in. Where previously there had been a sense of loss (intriguing, toe-tapping loss), now there’s an overwhelming feeling of “This is who we are, and things are good.”
I’m notoriously bad at calling things where people’s tastes are involved (seriously, how can anyone stand Ke$ha?), so I don’t know how Grinning Streak will do on the charts or how many copies it will sell. But I can, with straight face and solemn heart, tell you this: This album is even better than Stunt.