Sunday, February 28, 2010

Greatest Thing Of Anything: Barenaked Ladies

BNL rolled?

The first song I heard from the Barenaked Ladies was "The Old Apartment," one of their lesser known offerings. It showed up in 1997 on WEQX, getting fairly high up on the Canadian charts and only making it into the high 80s on the U.S. ones (it did have to compete with such utter masterpieces as "MMMBop," of course). It's kind of surprising to see that they've been around since 1988, slowly gaining steam in Canada before starting to seep into the American market with a couple of singles. They only really hit the scene with the release of the album Stunt the next year and its considerably more popular song "One Week."

The band has also been fairly consistent. Its members include Jim Creeggan, nicknamed "Grampah" for somewhat curmudgeonly behavior; Kevin Hearn, a leukemia survivor; Ed Robertson, a pilot who once safely crash-landed his Cessna; and Tyler Stewart, the drummer and only member who hasn't written a song. Two member transitions have occurred: Andy Creeggan, Jim's brother, who left in 1995 to go solo and co-founder Steven Page, who also left to go solo and briefly resented the other founding member (Robertson) in childhood for stealing his best friend.

It's difficult to class the members in the normal way, because they seem to be a general talent tour de force when it comes to what they play. For example, Jim Creeggan is the bassist, but that term includes both the bass guitar and the giant stringed instrument. There are plenty of other non-traditional instruments that make their way into the lineup, and it seems like everyone gets in on the creative end of things when it comes to getting the songs down on paper. And though the songs are ultimately imbued with a deeper meaning, their subjects are usually very specific and quite random. Here are some examples, of both their more popular and less well-known tracks, and what it seems they're about:

One Week: a sort of apology song following a relationship fight with numerous detours into pop culture and other references, including The X-Files, Snickers candy bars, and wasabi.
The Old Apartment: a "you can't go home again" song musing on a couple's former residence and the memories it holds despite the overall crumminess of the tenement.
If I Had $1000000: a song detailing what the band would do if they had a million dollars, with one proposal suggesting a treehouse with a mini-fridge containing pre-wrapped sausages.
If I Fall: a song about a window washer contemplating suicide.
Alcohol: a general song detailing the highs and lows every responsible user of alcohol has experienced after having a few too many at a party.
Light Up My Room: something of a love song involving a family that has some special electrical abilities thanks to the fact that they live near the power lines.

You've also heard these fellas signing the theme song to The Big Bang Theory if you're into geeky CBS comedies. It's well worth your time to listen to this two-minute extended version. Where else are you going to hear something rhymed with Australopithecus?

The band is also known for having exceptionally great live performances. The lead singer sounds pretty much the same way he does when on the records, and the band can get creative in the small songs and raps they introduce. For a time, fans also got into the practice of tossing boxes of Kraft dinner up on stage, though that was curbed once the microwaveable meals started to target the band members.

For full disclosure, I'll admit that I have only two BNL albums (Stunt and Rock Spectacle), haven't heard a number of non-single songs off the others, and haven't made seen them live. And of course they're not perfect; Page was busted for cocaine and marijuana possession in 2008, for example. And perhaps a group of people can't quite be characterized as a greatest thing of anything, and maybe it's not smart to praise anything Canadian after the United States just lost the Olympic gold medal in a hard-fought hockey game. But these guys are a lot of fun, and they certainly deserve what little honor this blog post can give them.