Barenaked Ladies

Silverball

by Lee Zimmerman

6 July 2015

Barenaked Ladies’ well-tailored tongue-in-cheek delivery is by a radio-friendly sound that places its emphasis on sentiment and sincerity.
 
cover art

Barenaked Ladies

Silverball

(Vanguard)
US: 2 Jun 2015

Admittedly, Canada’s Barenaked Ladies aren’t always in the best position to be taken seriously. For starters, there’s their handle, chosen when the group’s founding members Ed Robertson and Steven Page, two former school chums, tossed around ideas for band names after deciding to pool their talents. And then there are the signature songs on which they built their decidedly wacky reputation: “Be My Yoko Ono,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “Brian Wilson” and their salute to geeks and freaks via the theme song for the hit CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory.

Regardless, after more than 27 years, various hit albums and accompanying successful singles, sales in the tens of millions, a fair amount of Grammy nominations and Canadian Juno award nods, Barenaked Ladies deserve to be taken seriously. Having whittled themselves down to a core quartet—Ed Robertson (vocals, guitar), Kevin Hearn (keyboards, vocals), Jim Creegan (bass, vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums, vocals)—the group has sharpened up their edge and honed in on their more assertive impulses.

What some seem to forget is the fact that Barenaked Ladies has always boasted astute songwriters, and their penchant for pop has fortunately managed to thwart any temptation to label them as strictly a kind of novelty act. There’s a world of difference between the music they’ve been making and the cartoonish antics of, say, Weird Al Yankovic. And yet, with a reputation for crafting catchy, quirky ditties, the band knows they have an image to live up to.

That said, Barenaked Ladies’ well-tailored tongue-in-cheek delivery is considerably less apparent on Silverball. It’s replaced instead by an equally effusive radio-friendly sound that places its emphasis on sentiment and sincerity. “I’m a little worse for wear, got a little more gray in my hair,” they croon on the album opener, the decidedly resolute “Get Back Up.” It then, opens the door for a more insistent approach, with songs such as “Here Before” and “Matter of Time” intertwining melody and muscle in equal measure within the musical mix. Not surprisingly, the combination works remarkably well, so much so that most of these offerings allow for an immediate impact. Forget preconceptions; this is an excellent album, all imagery and irony aside. Oftentimes the energy is expended on romantic notions, an unusual tack by Barenaked Ladies standards, but clearly evident on “Hold My Hand” and “Passcode” regardless. “You know the passcode to my heart, You push the buttons that make it start beating.” Face it, it doesn’t get much sappier than that.

Granted, long-time fans might find it somewhat sad that the fanciful sentiments that guided those aforementioned hits no longer hold sway. However, they can also take heart; beneath the glossy sheen, a celebratory sound still manages to permeate the album overall. This is a group that appears renewed, confident in their ability to make music that’s as insightful as it as entertaining. For as much as it appears to eschew its usual oddness for a measure of orthodoxy, the buoyant, bouncy Silverball still retains its lustre.

Silverball

Rating:

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