[21 July 2009]
To hear the members of the band tell the tale, it’s something of a wonder that Burn Burn even exists. Our Lady Peace was this close (this close!) to breaking up while it was making its previous album Healthy in Paranoid Times, and the release of that album along with the singles compilation A Decade freed the band from its contractual obligation with Sony. Following the release of that comp, they could have called it a career and nobody would have batted an eye.
Still, here we are, it’s 2009 and Our Lady Peace is releasing another album, its first as a band without a record label. With no high-powered executives breathing down their neck, they took their newfound independence one step farther and decided to self-produce the new batch of songs as well—the only person given any individual credit for the production of Burn Burn is vocalist Raine Maida, the likely driving force behind this and any Our Lady Peace effort. One almost gets the impression that the band wanted to test the waters to see if they could still work together without killing each other, and if they couldn’t, the only ones affected would be themselves. Turns out, they could, and the result is their most intimate, immediate album to date.
Such intimacy is instantly evident in Maida’s lyrical choices throughout the album; while the specifics of what he’s singing about are as fuzzy as ever, the personal nature of his words this time around are a stark contrast to the U2-esque rallying cries of Healthy in Paranoid Times. “You looked at me when you walked in the room / Like a Red Sea you split me open / Somehow knew these wings were stolen / All you did was save my life,” he sings in opener and first single “All You Did Was Save My Life”, offering words emblematic of the rest of the album. Maida spends much of his time singing to an unnamed “you” (a fact evident even from a quick glance at the song titles), eschewing universal sentiment for a much more personal set of emotions. Sure, by never naming the addressee of these songs, he still manages to create something that anyone listening could relate to, the difference now is that the listener will apply their own personal meaning to the words rather than having to infer or interpret the bigger picture of what Maida is singing about.
Hearing the intimacy in the rest of the band is a little bit more difficult; it’s a bombastic rock record, almost cliché in its soft-loud dynamics and its verse-chorus-verse structure. Here, the intimacy comes from two places: the warmth of Maida’s production and an eagerness to please.
Maida produces Burn Burn as if the listener is in the center of the room with the band—despite an almost machine-like attention to precision and perfection in the performances, there are few effects on the sounds, and you never feel like you’re in a concert hall when you’re hearing these songs. The acoustic moments may as well have been performed in a bedroom, and the louder moments a ready-to-burst garage. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there. While they’re surrounding you with that sound, they’re also serenading you with some of the easiest to remember hooks Our Lady Peace has ever written. “Dreamland” could have come straight off of Gravity, “Never Get Over You” is a perfect example of piano plunking turning into an explosive power ballad, and the beautiful closer “Paper Moon” is languid and lazy in all the right ways. These are overt appeals to a fanbase that may have left them for dead, and somehow, they work.
Really, what Our Lady Peace did with Burn Burn was make the single most ordinary rock ‘n roll album they’ve ever recorded. What they seem to have realized in the process, though, is that ordinary isn’t always so bad; that ordinary can, under the right circumstances, be liberating. Our Lady Peace has made a career out of trying to burst through the confines that their identity as a rock band foists upon them. Finally, free from the pressure of contractual obligation, free from the watchful eye of an outside-the-band producer, they find that embracing those confines can occasionally yield its own brand of magic.