Review Summary: it’s pretty nifty when you’re young and proud / but i’ve been fifty for a while nowFake Nudes
, while not necessarily a renaissance for the Barenaked Ladies, was a respite from their late-career banality, just for the fact that it felt like a band
effort again. For a group heavily praised - and heavily reliant - on harmony and songwriting democracy, every effort since the departure of Steven Page has increasingly focused on Ed Robertson's dominant algorithm-chasing affectations. Fake Nudes
was the rare album where the other members - Kevin Hearn and his husky yearning in particular - stood equally in the spotlight, and reminded the world (or whatever part of it that still cares) about the chemistry that makes them lovable.
Which makes it more disappointing that In Flight
is, ironically, deeply grounded in the status quo - in the same way that previous record Detour de Force
rarely strayed from the straight and narrow. At his worst, Robertson mines the same fortune cookie faux-optimism and pop structures that have permeated his last decade of compositions, nary a hint of subtext to be found. "Lovin' Life" is about... loving life. "One Night" is about... having one night? To love life? What's more interesting, and less utilised, is his self-aware appreciation of the Ladies' unexpected longevity. Tracks like "What Do We Need?", and their frank acknowledgement of the toll of touring, shed the facade of comedy for sincere vulnerability. Then he starts addressing cancel culture
on "Too Old" and the frustration of Robertson's inconsistency kicks back into gear.
This leaves the aforementioned Hearn, and eternally underrated bassist Jim Creeggan, to flesh out the album's musical variety. Creeggan's jazzier sensibilities shine on cuts like "Just Wait", imbuing the mundanity of cooking eggs in the morning with a waltzy/schmaltzy tenderness. Hearn, in contrast, curates country-inspired odes to the oddities of Toronto that permeated his youth – a tower over Lake Ontario, a lady throwing peace signs over the motorway. It’s his willingness to be unapologetically irreverent, Canadian, himself, that carries on the spirit of the band’s earlier efforts. It’s also a shame that combined, Jim and Kevin’s efforts take up less than half the album; a leaner, more concise cut of the album would highlight the group’s camaraderie more effectively.
In spite of all my criticisms, it'd be unfair to imply that the Ladies have completely lost their charm. Musically, In Flight
represents a nostalgic trip back, forgoing the band's alt-rock commercial peak for the band's alt-acoustic roots. Occasionally it even lives up to its namesake, as "I Am Asking You To" crescendos to an arena-sized declaration of love for someone who doesn't love themselves enough. But so many of the album's strengths - and the band's strengths in general - are submerged in a dirge of predictability. Perhaps I'm critiquing too much of what could have been rather than what is - and latter-day Ladies are still a comfort zone for me. It's just that after being engorged on too many servings of comfort food, I think they run the risk of not being able to stand up again.