September 21, 2000

If I Only Had A Brain…

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With their sixth album, Maroon, the Barenaked Ladies solidify their position among the most prolific pop-rock bands around today. In fact, Maroon might be the best pure pop performance of the year. This is the Canadian group’s follow-up to their breakthrough album Stunt, which went multiplatinum based on the popularity of the rapid-fire, faux hip-hop megahit “One Week.”

Furthering their unique brand of infectious melodies and lyrical adeptness, the Barenaked Ladies continue to improve upon their penchant for producing irresistibly catchy pop tunes with creatively sarcastic, alternatively humorous, and deep lyrics.

The Barenaked Ladies have risen to prominence due to their ability to make pop songs memorable, showcased on previous hits “Brian Wilson” and “If I Had a $1000000.” These songs have become popular with their extremely loyal fan base because of their nuanced, sometimes obscure pop-culture references.

They have previously been known as a primarily live band, never quite capturing their live potency on a studio album. That is, until now. Unlike its predecessors, Maroon has no throwaway songs, no songs that people skip to get to the catchy radio hit.

The power of their songs is found in its capacity to link intellectual, sometimes even dark, lyrics with generally happy-go-lucky music. This is even more prevalent on Maroon, which finds the band expanding its musical and lyrical horizons. A string section is used throughout the album, diverting from their normal guitar-bass-drum-keyboard lineup.

Make no mistake about it; the Barenaked Ladies have grown up. This album is still full of the clever wordplay and biting deliveries they are known for, but it also deals with darker issues, such as the difficulties of adulthood. The serious concernts touched on range from love to politics to a fatal car crash.

The first single, “Pinch Me,” is a perfect example of the playfulness apparent in their music. They might be the only band in the world that can have such a lighthearted phrase as “I just made you say underwear” intertwined with a fast-paced rap-style chorus, reminiscent of “One Week.” The opening number, “Too Little Too Late,” demonstrates crunching guitar licks, intense drums, and sugary harmonies, similar to Stunt’s “It’s All Been Done.”

“Baby Seat” offers a lesson in independence and maturity: “You can’t live your life in the baby seat/ You’ve got to stand on your own/ Don’t admit defeat.” Songs such as “Never Do Anything” and “The Humor of the Situation” have the familiar Barenaked Ladies craftsmanship and sound as though they could have appeared on any of their prior efforts.

As Maroon progresses, the band finds a previously unheard sense of musical experimentation. The theatrical and political elements in “Sell, Sell, Sell” break new ground for the group. “Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” is a first-hand account of a fatal traffic accident. With its pseudo-waltz feel, this song enters the world of mood music. Even the light, jazzy rumba of “Conventioneers” is not something you would expect on a Barenaked Ladies album.

Despite this instrumental diversity, the shrewd lyrics and witty banter remain a constant throughout. While the music is clearly there, Maroon is less of a commercial album than was Stunt. It does not contain one song that could single-handedly sell millions of records.

The childlike atmosphere that was present on their earlier, more commercial records has been replaced by a more mature-sounding environment.

Also, the album is front-loaded. In other words, the best songs can be found in the first half of the album and while the second half is interesting, it is a step down from the high-powered opening. However, it does improve upon its forebearer in its consistency of musicianship, which makes it a worthy successor.

Archived article by Seth Zelnik