For their 1994 album, Maybe You Should Drive
, the Barenaked Ladies did not have the same producer as on Gordon
, Michael Philip Wojewoda. The result was a very polished album that still lacked a certain something. Part of that was the sometimes raw sound heard on Gordon
. Another bit lost was some of the tongue-in-cheek humor that makes the BNL the BNL. This leaves Maybe You Should Drive
a relatively inaccessable/different BNL record. However, for the band's third effort, Michael Philip Wojewoda is back. And you can tell. The songs, while more polished than Gordon's
songs, have the more easygoing feel that we love the BNL for. While there are more serious topics discussed (Suicide and Depression make their appearances as key BNL topics on this album), the humor is still evident on other tracks.
As always, the BNL are hard to stereotype on this album. They are easy to listen to and write off as pop, but they are so much more than pop. They can play straight jazz, country-western, heavy alternative rock, and very pretty acoustic songs. Also, their range of topics is very broad, ranging from spiders to suicide. They can successfully pull off all of these things and still be taken seriously as a great band. Unfortunately, for this record, Andy Creegan (keyboardist) left to persue higher education. Even though he's gone, the album does not feel very empty, though one does miss his slightly jazzy piano style. Now for the songs themselves:
Things start off on a high note. Stomach vs. Heart
is a catchy guitar/bass driven tune that goes back to the silly lyrics that make the BNL so loveable. What makes the song works so well, though is the effective way the band can stop and start in unison, while building from quiet verses to relatively loud choruses. Next up is the hoedown-esque Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank
. Dealing with the topic of celebrity stalking, the usual top-notch musicianship of the band is further augmented with a good string section and harmonica. Pretty good way to start off an album if you ask me.
Next, we experience Ed Robertson's cynical side about racism and tolerance with the dryly humorous I Know
. It sounds like a typical upbeat BNL guitar song, and I will say that Jim's bass work sticks out very well on this track. Up next is the first ballad of the album, This Is Where It Ends
, giving Steven Page's thoughts on suicide. It is marked with an arpeggiated clean electric complementing a strummed acoustic. Some of the best BNL lyrics are on this song, with lines like:
This is where it ends
This is where it ends
Call the police and
Call the Press
But please dear God
Don't tell my friends
Up next is Ed's acoustic ballad, When I Fall
. Dealing with the futility of a nowhere job (being a window washer), again, the thought of suicide is touched on this track. It's probably about my favorite on the album, and one of what I think are the best BNL songs ever. Weird synths start off the next piece, I Live With It Everyday
. Recalling events through a depressed man's youth, this song took a long time to grow on me. However, some parts of the song are excellent, and Steven's emotion definitely shows through in the later half of the song.
Now, it's time for possibly the most famous cut from this album, The Old Apartment
. Often misinterpreted as being about breaking into an old girlfriend's apartment, Steven says that the narrator is still with the same girl, and they break into their old residence. This is definitely about the heaviest BNL song I've heard, and it is one of the songs that shows the true versatility of the band. After this is the crooning love song, Call Me Calmly
. It's very poppy, and in my opinion, one of the weaker tracks. Nothing special occurs here, but there are some nice strings on this song.
A reviewer on Amazon called Break Your Heart
'Barenaked Elvis.' I have to say that I agree with them. This features some of Steven's best and most emotional singing to date. While the instrumentation is relatively light and simple, it fits the tone of the song perfectly. A definite high part of this album. Jim Creegan was allowed to show some creativity on the next trach, Spider in my Room
. While a lot of people consider this one of the weakest tracks, it is actually one of my favorites, as it exhibits fine musicianship and humor. Tribal chanting and drums drive this track pondering what bad luck would occur if Jim were to kill a spider in his room. Again, I'd give this track a few listens before writing it off as stupid, like many people are prone to doing.
Ed returns with another melancholy song, Same Thing
, that to me represents a man struggling to find his identity. It has a very loose feel, with acoustic guitar, piano, fiddle, and very light drums. Not a standout track, but nothing too bad here. Just a Toy
is another one of the songs that took a while to grow on me as well. A love song, Steven uses a weird effect on his voice to give it a very lo-fi quality. Percussion drives this song, and it is an often overlooked song in the BNL catalogue.
Creegan is at it again with In the Drink
, jazz guitar love song (In fact, I think he even plays the guitar on this song). To be quite honest, I'm still working on figuring out exactly what Jim is trying to convey in this song, but I don't think I'm alone in that respect. While the words are a little different, there is some quite excellent guitar work going on here. At 5:12, though, it does drag out quite a lot. Slightly different from the greatest hits version, Shoe Box
immediately starts telling the story of a young kid having an affair with an older woman. Distorted guitars give this a slightly alternative feel, though it's not quite as heavy as "The Old Apartment." The Ladies do some very good work with syncopation, too. All in all, it's a great album closer.
While there are a lot of darker lyrical themes here than on other BNL recordings, the music is very similar to other BNL things. If you want to hear songs about dijon ketchup and Yoko Ono, get an album like Gordon
. This is definitely one of the albums that will grow on you after listening a few times, though, so if you don't like it at first, give it some time. Great music coupled with amazing lyrics prompt me to give this album a 4/5.