Advertisement
  •  

Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Review: Barenaked Ladies disappoint with tired sound

Barenaked Ladies "Grinning Streak"

Here’s a little music industry secret: Barenaked Ladies’ 1992 debut, “Gordon,” is one of the finest albums of the ’90s. That record set the bar high with 15 knockout songs, including the jazzy, hyperactive “Enid” and the beautifully melancholy “Wrap Your Arms Around Me.” Two decades and 10 albums later, the Ladies’ latest release, “Grinning Streak,” is a mediocre effort with none of the charm that made “Gordon” special.

Original frontman Steven Page’s incredible voice and wry, honest songwriting set the band apart — but as the group’s career progressed, guitarist Ed Robertson gradually took the spotlight and turned it into a generic alt-pop band. After Page left the group in 2009, Robertson became the official frontman. The following year, the band then released “All In Good Time,” an album full of adult-contemporary schlock.

The Ladies’ latest release, “Grinning Streak,” which came out June 4, is utterly indistinguishable from its predecessor, proving that every ounce of originality left when Page did. Each song plods along at the same tepid pace, with the same dull chord progressions and overly sanitized production, removing every possible edge or deviation from the formula of repetitive acoustic strumming, stolid drums and vaguely cheerful, meaningless lyrics.

Kevin Hearn, whose instruments include keyboards, accordion, guitar, mandolin, banjo and harmonica, stands out here, as he did on “All In Good Time.” His melodic interludes on “Smile,” with their simple, repetitive melody punctuated by handclaps, and his original composition, “Daydreamin’,” which ends with a beautiful keyboard-and-synthesizer coda, provide welcome sparks of energy.

But Hearn is not the driving force behind this album — Robertson is, and his compositions, including cliche-ridden lead single “Boomerang” and the needlessly lengthy “Crawl,” which meanders along aimlessly for nearly seven minutes, are painfully ordinary. Whatever happened to the peppy fun of 2001’s “It’s Only Me (The Wizard of Magicland)” and the sheer manic intensity of 1996’s “Straw Hat And Old Dirty Hank?” The wonderful quirkiness this band used to be famous for has been replaced with outdated banality.

Sadly, a group that could once give The Decemberists a run for their money has been reduced to churning out easy-listening pablum. There’s no doubt that The Ladies will make more of these albums, but for longtime fans who love the band’s old sound, the grinning streak is over.