Review Summary: 'Stunt' is THE perfect pop-rock album: it's basically ear candy filled with addictive hooks while instilled with BNL's trademark quirky humor. Buy it.
If I'm a bettin' man (which I'm not, really... I suck pretty bad at poker), I'd go all-in when I say that you've heard at least one song from BNL's 1998 release, Stunt
. Their finest release since their debut, Gordon
, the Ladies do what they do best throughout this entire album, and, arguably, their entire careers: writing pop-rock ear candy filled with addictive hooks while instilled with their trademark quirky humor. Ever since their formation in 1990, BNL have never officially fallen under one specific genre; rather, they're like a salmagundi of pop-rock, blues, and folk, who first made their start on college radio stations, and accordingly working their way up to mainstream success, all the while releasing high-quality music.
This album's success was no doubt fueled by its singles, particularly One Week
, with its "rapped" verses behind claves, and It's All Been Done
, a song that could have easily have had immense radio play twenty-to-thirty years ago, and not just in the late '90s.
The album is a fun listen, with the Ladies playing and singing about almost everything, from love and relationships to insomnia to wrapping pantyhose around one's neck. The lyrics and instrumentation are certainly highlights to the album - as they always are with the Barenaked Ladies - especially if one is a fan of BNL's trademark humor that they implement voraciously into their songwriting. Although the album falters with a couple weaker tracks due to their production, Stunt
is nevertheless an essential album for all with an enormous replay value, featuring classic songs that offer something for every music fan and is consequently a must-own for any fan of the genre... whatever genre that may be, anyway.
starts the album rollicking along with Page's pick-up vocal notes of "It's been" and the full band kicking in with the chorus to begin the song. The capoed electric guitars rock along, with bubbly bass and steady keywork supplementing the guitars well. At :18, Robertson's vocals enter, and he "raps" his way through the verses and pre-choruses, which are littered with pop-culture references, such as "I like the sushi 'cause it's never touched a frying pan - hot like wasabi when I bust rhymes, big like LeAnn Rimes, 'cause I'm all about value" and "I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral - can't understand what I mean? Well, you soon will." While these words may be obnoxious to some unfamiliar with the band, these lyrics are, in fact, typical fare from BNL. Puns, jokes, tongue-in-cheek humor, and the like are all found throughout the album, but are packed in extra-tight in a three-minute track. The "rapped" verses, though, are a first for the band in regards to their delivery. Guitarist/vocalist Ed Robertson is backed by claves, which acts as a tempo block for the track. The second verse sports more allusions to pop culture, with Robertson name-dropping Harrison Ford, Sting, and proclaiming that he's "like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy!" This track is easily the best-known song on the album, and for good reason: it's a tremendously effective album opener that sets the tone for the album to follow.
It's All Been Done
is another cardinal BNL track, sporting a moderate electric chord progression and some solid bass. It's a straightforward song, written in an ABABCBDB format. The verses are four lines, filled with some nice back-up vocal work. This is also heard in the choruses, with a "Woohoohoo!" melody following other BNL vocalist Steven Page's "It's all been done" line. As expected, the usual satire is immersed throughout the track, with references to The Price Is Right and Page asking, "If I play the same three chords, will you just yawn and say..." with a sampled groaning sound preceding the third chorus. The instrumentation also shines, particularly in the bridge, where a short, yet effective breakdown is executed. Afterwards, Light Up My Room
and I'll Be That Girl
follow. The former is a much slower track than its two predecessors, but Robertson's vocals are soothing and seemingly melt along with the arpeggiated guitars. The latter track is significantly more upbeat, featuring a vibraphone and guitar combination in the verses and chorus. Page exclaims in the chorus that if he were a field or if he were the sun, the girl of interest would be in clover and in shadow, respectively. He adds at the end, "If I had a gun, there'd be no tomorrow." Once again, the bridge is a substantial highlight, with Page hitting a higher register with ease while proclaiming, "We've got plenty of time to grow old and die, but when your beauty's faded, you'll be glad that I waited for you."
The vibraphone plays again in Leave
, giving the song a bluesy feel, especially with the "Doo, doo, doo-do-dooo" ad-libbing that carries the song. The track revolves around throwing a lover out of the house, and the difficulties in doing so. For example, Robertson feels haunted by ghosts ("Apparitions still won't leave me alone, it's as if you never left"), leaving him to wonder, "How am I supposed to remember you when you won't let me forget?" Alcohol
, appropriately, starts off raucously and vibrantly with certainly an upbeat colorfulness with guitars, bass, and keyboards, and Page musing over the wonders of alcohol abuse, calling the drink a "permanent accessory," a "partytime necessity," and an "alternative to feeling like yourself." Humorously enough, Page says that he drinks to alcohol's health, which basically summarizes the incoherency a bumbling alcoholic possesses. The chorus itself is one line in length, where Page states that he loves someone more than he did the week before due to his discovery of alcohol. An instrument-heavy verse follows, and at the 1:47 mark, BNL simulates a drunken party, with a series of "Wooo!" and other drunken stupors playing behind some inebriated-in-essence percussion and keyboards, coupled with Page's realization that he can "walk the fine line between self-control and self-abuse." At 2:13, there is a keyboard solo from Hearn, with chants of "Chug! Chug! Chug!" playing in the background to further give the impression that there's a party in the song itself. Like all parties, however, the song ends with a dramatic ritardando, and eventually ends in a sense of normalcy.
Call and Answer
is one of the slowest tracks on the album, in which the Ladies talk about the ever-popular topic of love and relationships. This is exemplified right on the onset, with Page personifying one who has gone through the wear-and-tear rigors of a relationship ("I think it's getting to the point where I can be myself again, I think it's getting to the point where we have almost made amends, I think it's the getting to the point that is the hardest part.") The acoustic and electric guitar strum along with the slower tone, and bassist Creegan plays some root notes in support. At 2:35, there is a short instrumental fill, which is followed by a third verse. After the third chorus, Page hits his upper register once again, warning his ex-lover to never again do "those crazy, messed-up things" that she does, and if she ever does, he promises that he'll "be the first to crucify" her. The song ends with Page singing "Rebuild, rebuild" in various tones, with some excellent piano playing from Hearn supporting Page's vocals. The outro piano is a wonderful accompaniment to the ad-libbed vocals at the end, and the song ends with a soft cymbal crash.
In the Car
as an odd song, aptly named for a time with a one-time stand with a woman in a car. The song tells a pretty interesting tale, however, particularly in the middle verse; in it, Page speculates what would happen if the one-time lover heard this ode to her while she was driving. The track is another blues-like number, with the back-up vocals being a highlight once again on the album. Never Is Enough
with yet another round of typical BNL anecdotes. The song's theme is straightforward, with Robertson singing about, appropriately, how "Never is enough." The guitars are again very bluesy, and the bass and percussion are standard fare yet still provide ample backing support. The most noteworthy humor in the song is Robertson's half-sung, half-rapped vocals, in which he proclaims, "The world's your oyster shell, but what's that funny smell? You eat the bivalve anyway, and you're sick with salmonella! You get your Ph.D, how happy you will be when you get a job at Wendy's and are honored with Employee of the Month!"
The title of Who Needs Sleep?
shouldn't throw the listener off in regards to the topic: insomnia. The verses are driven by acoustic guitar and bass, and in the choruses the use of a flute bolsters the lively song. Throughout the verses, Robertson struggles with his failure to fall asleep, and in the chorus he describes the methods he uses to try to fall asleep, from counting sheep to counting heartbeats, but "the only thing that counts is that [he] can't sleep." Bassist Creegan shines on this track in particular with his funky bass music. Robertson confesses that the "pleasures of insomnia are ones [he] can't avoid," and shortly thereafter, a brief "Holla, holla, holla!" chirp in the right channel occurs, and the song explodes back into the chorus. The choruses are modified and repeated, and the song ends with some marching. Another Robertson-on-vocals song follows, entitled Told You So
, which is a somewhat folk-y number. The lead soloing guitar, with its short leads over the acoustic guitars, is a terrific highlight to the track, in which Robertson tries to refrain from telling someone that he told 'em so, but he indeed tell 'em so.
is next, and is one of the best songs on Stunt
and arguably one of the best studio songs recorded by the Ladies. Page and Robertson trade vocals interchangeably throughout the song, with some wonderful bass driving their vocals along and Hearn's keyboard playing an integral part of the music as well. In the verses, Page and Robertson list off a bunch of things they want to do but will never get around to doing because of their fixation on missing their lost loves - Page wishes to work with animals and "boil 'em down for glue," which would be used to re-adhere his lips to hers. Robertson, meanwhile, wants to build a machine that will "eliminate the folks between" him and the cash register, since he does not like waiting in line long. The track oozes pop-rock, with some unique percussion that sounds like glass bottles in the intro. Stunt
brings it all home with When You Dream
, a song about Page's newborn son. Bass and percussion begin the song, and the song moves at an andante tempo, much akin to a nursery rhyme accompanied to music. In the verses, Page observes his son falling asleep, and in the choruses rhetorically questions him about his dreams: "Do you dream about music or mathematics or planets too far for the eye? Do you dream about Jesus or quantum mechanics or angels who sing lullabies? When you dream, what do you dream about?" This nursery rhyme/lullaby could conceivably be used as a lullaby, with a musicbox playing along with the bass, guitar, and strings. The song and album fades with a decrescendo.
The positives of this album, again, are BNL's fantastic songwriting, both instrumentally and lyrically. The Ladies have consistently been solid since their debut, and while they never really showed signs of slowing up, this album shows BNL at their best. A majority of the songs are full of solid breakdowns and instrumental highlights, and the alternation of Page and Robertson on vocals on tracks such as One Week
and Some Fantastic
is great fun. Barenaked Ladies have always prided themselves on their humor, and that never runs short on this album as well. While some people may not appreciate their humor, it is a welcome listen, especially in songs such as Who Needs Sleep?
and I'll Be That Girl
. The first half of the album is absolutely stellar, and definitely representative of BNL's trademark sound. The one drawback of the album is its production in a couple songs, namely In the Car
and Told You So
, although it is hardly a distraction. Ultimately, Stunt
is a brilliant album from BNL, and it's a ton of fun to listen to, which goes to show how much replay value the album holds. And that's what BNL have been about for years, really: having fun making music while still being excellent musicians. For these reasons and more, this album is entitled to classic status.
It's All Been Done
I'll Be That Girl
Light Up My Room
... that you buy this.