Barenaked Ladies “Grinning Streak”

Originally Posted On Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Scarborough, Ontario’s Barenaked Ladies have always been somewhat of a novelty act to some. Probably over 90% of the population has heard of them, and most of them could only really name two songs (If I Had $1,000,000 and One Week). Fortunately there are plenty of people out there who do know more of the hits that the band has had such as Old Apartment,EnidFalling For The First Time etc. While there are people out there who may not take them seriously because of such quirky songs as Be My Yoko Ono, the bands more serious side has never truly hit the public eye the way it deserved to with songs such as Jane andWhat A Good Boy being two of the absolute best examples.

I have personally always regarded main men Ed Robertson and Steven Page to be two of the best song writers since 1990, and I have dared compare their innovativeness to the likes of Supertramp’s Rick Davies/Roger Hodgson or Don Henley/Glenn Frey of the Eagles in their own right. Barenaked Ladieswere very experimental, yes, but throughout their recording career, especially in the first four or so albums, they brought in such unique influences and blended them with the bands different style of rock sound. Songs such as Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank or In The Car are songs that most bands from the 90’s and even today wouldn’t have bothered making because other artists simply don’t have the creative juices to incorporate such influences in to their songs.

 

In 2009, after releasing nine studio albums with the band, Steven Page left Barenaked Ladies, the reason given is simply that the band wasn’t the fun environment that it once was (if you listen to the songs in the early days compared to later stuff, I guess that makes sense). For a band who had never really been through any line-up changes, save for one back in the 90s, to lose one of the two faces of the band (and frankly the most recognizable of the two) was devastating for fans and probably for the band as well. The band continued as a four piece and 2010 released the first album with this newly reduced line-up, All In Good Time. It got terrific reception from critics and great sales in Canada, but only went to number 23 in the USA, the first single (something they swear wasn’t written about Steven Page) was called You Run Away. This album marked a turning point for the band in sound, not just with the absence of Steven both as a writer and singer, but with the increase in vocals from other band members Jim Creeggan and Kevin Hearn.

In early June of this year, they followed up All In Good Time with their latest album Grinning Streak. It is obvious that the level of comfort in the band has increased greatly. The band admitted that they were getting their feet wet with All In Good Time adjusting to their new situation, but the band sounds 100% comfortable on this new album and I was rather satisfied with the result.

 

The album has a bit of an experimental side in terms of sounds used on songs, but nothing comparable to the bands early days. The opening track Limits starts off almost electronically, even with the background vocals sounding somewhat robotic. The song is a slow song, a little upbeat sounding but still a little bit odd of a track to start the album with. The experimental aspects kind of also show in the slightly faster paced Off His HeadDid I Say That Out Loud? Also features experimenting with electronics.

 

The albums leading single, Boomerang, shows that Ed Robertson hasn’t forgotten the 90s and the essentials to writing a good catchy alternative rock song. This song is likely to be VERY refreshing to the 90’s alternative rock fan that listened to more than just grunge and rather just enjoyed the happier side of songs. This same feel can be heard in Best Damn Friend. While this track doesn’t sound like it could have been written in the 90s the way Boomerang does, it does have that positive feel with electric guitars and slightly heavier drums playing in the back.

 

Barenaked Ladies have never really shied away from using an acoustic guitar as the primary instrument in their songs as opposed to an electric guitar. This album is filled with that familiar stripped down guitar sound with songs like Gonna WalkOdds Are, also an acoustic track, is the kind of interestingly lyrically worded song that Ed has made a career of writing. The song sings about numerous worries that people have, such as being struck by lightning or stung by a bee, and how the “odds are” these kind of things will never happen, at least not until tomorrow. One of my favourite lyrics Ed has ever written is in this track “somewhere in the world, someone is gonna fall in love by the end of this song”, which displays how well Ed can write around a song titled “Odds Are”. My personal favourite song on the album is the almost completely acoustic track Give It Back To You. Always a sucker for ballads, this album is the closest the band comes on this release to recording a ballad.

 

The album isn’t all fun and dandy. Keepin’ It Real, while still being predominantly an acoustic song, has a very dark feel. I believe this is among the best written songs on the album because it sounds like so much more than just another Barenaked Ladies rock song. It has a very heavy drum beat and angry sounding vocals, kind of sounding like it belongs in a neo-western scene. Topped with an electric guitar solo, this song is a definitive moment in the bands career.

Unlike All In Good Time, only one song on Grinning Streak features someone other than Ed on lead vocals (there is also a bonus track that doesn’t feature him on lead vocals, which would technically make two songs).Daydreamin’ is Kevin Hearn’s sole lead vocal performance on this album. While not a gifted singer (some of his previously sung songs such a Vanishing have been slightly lacklustre) he fares well singing on this song. A gifted musician for the band with his multi-instrumental capabilities, he has always been a terrific song writer, which shows in this musically filled song. Should his vocals not appeal to you in this track, the music certainly might.

 

The album ends with the tracks Smile and CrawlSmile is a short but happy sounding song; it is not titled ironically, the song actually does sing about smiling. Crawl ends the album with a song that sounds somewhat different from the album. This song is one of few on the album to feature an electric guitar, and really the only song where an electric guitar is the primary stringed instrument used on the song. It has a similar feel and sound to the rest of the songs on the album, slow and mellow and heavily drum driven. I regard this as a great song to end the album with because it sums up the album very well.

 

Even though this albums release came rather unexpectedly, to me at least, the album sales have been the best the band has had in the USA since 2003’s Everything to Everyone. If there is but one complaint about the album it is that it may as well be an Ed Robertson solo album; he sings all but one song and wrote all but one song. The rest of the bands only contribution to the album is that they performed on it, where All In Good Time was a real band effort. However, the band has released what I will say is one of their best albums; a very mature standpoint of grown men who have made music long enough to have matured with the times.

 

ALBUM HIGHLIGHT

 

Boomerang” –­ I don’t see why long time Barenaked Ladies fans will not like this song. As mentioned before, it feels like a 90s song, but aside from that it sums up the album well. It has acoustic guitars AND electric guitars, and at the same time it is just so catchy, topped with the forever young lyrics that Ed always seems to be able to come up with. Old AND newer fans should be able to enjoy this song all the same.

 

FINAL RATING

 

9 (Out of 10)

 

Track List:

 

“Limits” 4:28
“Boomerang” 2:34
“Off His Head” 4:10
“Gonna Walk” 2:40
“Odds Are” 3:02
“Keepin’ It Real” 3:31
“Give It Back to You” 2:46
“Best Damn Friend” 3:48
“Did I Say That Out Loud?” 2:28
“Daydreamin'” 5:45
“Smile” 2:26
“Crawl” 6:47

 

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