Has someone already used the joke, 'Vanity, thy name is Steven Page?' They have? Oh, well.
Given the inherent humor in a bunch of wacky Canadian males teaming up and calling themselves Barenaked Ladies, it should come as no surprise that BNL's lead singer, Steven Page, would release his debut solo album not under his own name but, rather by calling a spade a spade and using the moniker the Vanity Project.
For 11 of the Vanity Project's 12 songs, Page has teamed up with an old friend and regular collaborator: Stephen Duffy. Duffy, known to trivia buffs as one of the founding members of Duran Duran, is better known to fans of pastoral British folk-pop as the lead singer of the Lilac Time. Additionally, for about five minutes in the early '80s he was also known as TinTin, scoring a cult hit with the single, "Kiss Me". Duffy has said in the past that "it's very strange to have met one of your best friends in life just from answering a letter," but, indeed, that's how he and Page first became acquainted. When he was just 15 years old, Page dropped Duffy a line to tell him how much he loved his new album... and, to his astonishment, Duffy wrote back. A communication had been opened, and the two corresponded for years, eventually evolving into a close friendship and songwriting collaboration. The results of the Page / Duffy pairing predominantly appeared on Barenaked Ladies albums; examples include "Jane", "Alternative Girlfriend" and "Call and Answer" (from Maybe You Should Drive) all the way through Maroon... but BNL's most recent disc, Everything to Everyone, found Duffy's name conspicuously absent from the credits.
As it turns out, of course, Page had been hoarding all of his work with Duffy for the Vanity Project... and if the pair's songs for Barenaked Ladies found Duffy's usual folk tendencies brought into a more mainstream pop setting, then the Vanity Project is the sound of Steven Page easing more into Duffy's established niche.
It's not the first time Page has been there; 2001 found one of their collaborations on a Lilac Time album with Lilac6's "Entourage". It is, however, the first time Page has found himself with the majority of an album's worth of predominantly serious material. There are no chimpanzees sending postcards nor is there an appearance by Chickety China the Chinese chicken... and the result makes you realize that it may just be Ed Robertson who's the resident goofball in Barenaked Ladies.
The album's first single, "That's All, That's All", is a surprisingly subtle choice to introduce the Vanity Project to the world; given that the album was released in mid-June, it seems like a top-down driving song like "Baby Loves the Radio" or the immediate pop of "So Young So Wrong So Long" would immediately lend themselves to airplay. If nothing else however, "That's All" serves to draw a line in the sand and indicate that, despite a few exceptions, this isn't the fun-filled party than most Barenaked Ladies albums tend to be.
BNL fans may miss Robertson's voice, but those willing to give this album several spins will appreciate a level of delicacy that Page never would have had within that band. If the melodies take a few listens to take hold in some cases, it's worth it in the long run.