Proudly Canadian, hopelessly tongue-in-cheek, and endlessly creative and forward-looking musically, the Barenaked Ladies have been around longer than you might think. Since co-lead singers/guitarists Steven Page and Ed Robertson founded the group in Toronto in 1990, the band has produced, with astonishing consistency, high quality music that doesn't quite fit into just one genre. From post-grunge to techno, from pop-rock to a little bluesy country, BNL covers the bases in their first greatest hits collection titled disc one: All Their Greatest Hits
Ever mindful of their strong core fanbase, BNL allowed fans to order the songs on the album on their website. The result is a compilation that runs like a long LP, flowing well from one song to another while discarding the chronological plodding of most greatest hits records. BNL also makes sure to cover their entire career, not just putting in their monster radio hits (which would make for a pretty short record), but also including cult hits, early songs and two live tracks.
The album starts off with a rocker, "Old Apartment," which is probably the heaviest song on the record. A yuppy's lament for his old run down pad (and maybe an old girlfriend), "Old Apartment" has the trademark clever turns of phrase with a disconcertingly angry/stalker feel to it. The album progresses with "Falling for the First Time," a love song for the everyman, and then slips into the live version of "Brian Wilson" from Rock Spectacle
. The lyrics are slurred a bit by Steven Page, but the song is still impressive, and the track gives an idea of the energy and commitment of a BNL live show.
"One Week," BNL's biggest hit ever, is next in its original form, with Ed Robertson's super-fast delivery as impressive as ever. "Be My Yoko Ono" is an upbeat song with an extended metaphor (guess what it is!) from early on in BNL's college radio days. "Alternative Girlfriend" boasts the best guitar riff on the album in another love song loaded with pop culture references and snipes at all those self-conscious hippies. Another love song follows--a song about loving oneself. "It's Only Me (The Wizard of Magicland)" may sound like a narcissist's anthem, but Page points out that "They say you'll never love another 'til you love yourself. Well, brother, I'm in love with everyone I see," so it's really only a harmless ego shot.
One of the most enduringly funny-in-a-warm-and-fuzzy-way songs of the Barenaked Ladies' catalog is "If I Had a Million Dollars," a cute little love song about, well, what a million dollars would buy--and they come up with some pretty interesting things. "Call and Answer" brings the lights down a bit with a promise of assistance to a loved one but at the same time a warning to clean up their act. "Get In Line" is silly, faux-techno about a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Not much depth, but an enjoyable listen. "It's All Been Done" was the next big hit after "One Week," and again the pop culture trivia keeps coming in a more conventional alternative pop/rock form.
"Jane" might be the sweetest song in BNL's history. Like so many of their love songs, it describes an offbeat romance, this time between a young musician and a cashier, Jane St. Claire. In the liner notes, Page says that he and Robertson had seen the corner of Jane Street and St. Claire Street on a map, and Ed had remarked "'That must be the most beautiful street corner in the world.' It wasn't, but we wrote a song about it anyway." A strange change of pace that actually works really well, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" has a country western feel to it with gorgeous harmonies and impressive stand-up bass bowing by Jim Creegan. Speaking of which, Page's comments on "Pinch Me" in the liner notes simply say "This song makes me want to write 'Jim is a bass god' on random bathroom walls."
A bouncy song about an affair with an older woman, "Shoebox" manages to take the theme of "Mrs. Robinson" and somehow make everyone identify with it. "What a Good Boy" is the second live track, and whereas "Brian Wilson" is upbeat and inquisitive, this song is more introspective and, in its way, an anthem for bucking stereotypes. "Too Little, Too Late" is just as bouncy as ever, and serves as a nice change of pace from the pathos of "What a Good Boy."
"Enid" is another of the weird songs that only BNL could pull off. Starting with a radio playing some obscure music clip, it launches into a bouncy pop/rock send-off of a teenage romance gone awry. Every teen who has ever been in love can identify with this song, which is more disturbing than anything in the song. The album ends on an appropriately wry note with "No Regrets," a story of a one night stand that resulted in unrequited love.
disc one: All Their Greatest Hits
is an introduction to the path that the Barenaked Ladies have taken to and from pop stardom, but it is also an impressive, cohesive album in it's own right. When a record has 19 tracks and is still over too soon, you know you've got a keeper, and once again the Barenaked Ladies have produced one.