Review Summary: Page matures as a songwriter and satirist as his career away from BNL progresses
I'm no Barenaked Ladies historian (just don't ask my web browser about that!), but if you dial back the clock to 2009, I'm not sure anyone but Steven Page himself may have thought that a split from BNL would be a good idea. Though it's rumored Page was less than enthusiastic about the Ladies' more gimmicky outings - Barenaked for the Holidays
, the band had been soaring, or at least coasting at a high altitude on the backs of singles like "The Old Apartment," "It's All Been Done," and "One Week" for what's seemed like ages. With an iconic cash cow in TV opener "The Big Bang Theory" not far off in the rear-view mirror, why rock the boat?
Well, a less adventurous man might not. And a more foolish man might try and fail. But Steven Page, an artist as self-aware as he is brilliant, made good on the transition and nautical reference all at the same time with Page One
and opener "A New Shore." The album read more as a varied collection of high quality singles than anything else, but that's not unprecedented for the old hand at pop rock. What was truly impressive was the obvious passion and innovation Page brought to his solo career along with his signature quirkiness, style, and voice. But as the quirks persisted, it became suddenly obviously clear that this was no longer a man hiding behind throwaway jokes and pop culture references.
Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct
picked up this flag and carried it even further into the breach with overarching themes and a continued experimentation with sound. Songs like "Manchild" and "Linda Ronstadt in the 70s" carried on the long-chronicled Page whimsy while also opening the artist to the world with upbeat yet brutal honesty in tracks like "No Song Left to Save Me" and "There's A Melody" I and II.
So where does Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II
pick up? Basically, right where Pt. 1
ends - a musical thread packed with progression, theatrics, and personal honesty Page has found in the light of leaving BNL. A thread I can't believe we would've seen had he chosen to remain with the group.
"Nothing Special" opens the album by reframing the "There's a Melody" theme from Pt. 1
with an array of styles that carry it from barebones piano pop rock to electronic bop to jet-swept vocal delivery. There's a delightful and intentionally ironic twist turning the insignificant into "something special," all while making a line like "Children starving in the desert sun / Look out mama, junior's got a gun" into one of the best of the year.
But where "Nothing Special" ends on a drolling insistence that "everything is fine," "Feelgood Summer" picks up with an upbeat Latin brass section and another taste of Page's acerbic musical sarcasm. A relative constant to Page's solo works, his tone and comedic posturing stand in relative contrast to his BNL works: almost as a satire to BNL's absurdism. And though Page traverses a variety of styles from the Blues of "Where Do You Stand?" to the tongue-in-cheek lounge of "You Fucked Yourself" to the activist punk leanings of "White Noise," Page's post-BNL wit is one of his ever apparent assets.
And while it's easy to call "White Noise" cheesy and too much a product of its own time, it's significantly harder to say the same for the rest of the album. But, of course, that's nothing new for Page - he's been producing universally relatable music for ages. Where his solo material (in particular, those songs contained here on Discipline
) excels is in taking the experimental approach musically and that of a manchild trying to develop maturity before it's too late lyrically, where Page never truly needed
to do either.
But I'm glad he did. And if the choice in the future is for more Page or more Ladies, I'd take Page any day.