Review Summary: The secret is out: the Barenaked Ladies are Men, and they are one of the best pop-rock bands in recent memory.
Yes, it's true, and after fifteen years as recording artists of some prominence, the secret is out: the Barenaked Ladies are, in fact, Men. The album that let the cat out of the bag is essentially the second part of a dual-release double album, beginning with Barenaked Ladies Are Me
in September, and between the two, BNL has provided their best set of songs since...well, quite possibly ever. While there is little here to link BNL with the jokiness of their past ("Grade 9," "Who Needs Sleep?" et al.), Guitarists/singers/songwriters Steven Page and Ed Robertson serve up more of the brilliant wordplay that fans have come to expect, aided ably by keyboardist Kevin Hearn.
One of Hearn's contributions, "Serendipity," kicks off the album, with Hearn providing a rare lead vocal performance. The problem is that while the song is superb and the vocal is fine, one can't help but think about how much more the song would pop with Page singing it. The same is true with Hearn's later offering, the lesser "Another Spin"--it's a good song, but it could have been better.
Luckily, things only go up from there, as the heart of the album is a string of brilliantly catchy pop songs. Whereas BNL Are Me
kept a reasonably sedate pace throughout, BNL Are Men
has more jangle-pop hooks than every Top 40 song this year combined, and the result is a set of songs begging sing-alongs. From the infectious "doo-doo-do"s of "Angry People," through the breakneck lyrical twists of "Running Out of Ink," and to the impossibly clever and scathing political satire in "Fun and Games," the record simply glows with pop songcraft. Ballads are skillfully woven in to pace the pop: "Beautiful" recalls the bittersweetness of Born on a Pirate Ship
's "Break Your Heart," and "Half a Heart" is simply heartbreaking, if you'll pardon the pun.
While "Quality" and the aforementioned "Another Spin" seem to be forced onto the album to add a higher humor quotient, they are still enjoyable numbers, and they provide ample setup to the closing crescendo. "What a Letdown" is as bouncy as "Wind it Up" and features the same lyrical juxtapositions, and on "Why Say Anything Nice?" drummer Tyler Stewart joins with Page and Robertson in crafting a bitingly clever and head-bobbingly catchy closer to a brilliant album. Taken by itself, BNL Are Men
is a flawless pop record--taken with BNL Are Me
, it's the high point of the Barenaked Ladies' career.