Barenaked Ladies Find a New Voice

When Steven Page left the Barenaked Ladies in early 2009, he left behind a band full of talented vocalists and musicians but also a band largely dependent on his songwriting abilities. He also left amidst unfortunate personal drama that pervaded the band’s usual affable image. While public reports have noted the split as amicable, you couldn’t help but think the now-quartet harbored some resentment. On the band’s latest album, All In Good Time, there is no longer any doubt.

The album’s first song, and its lead single, “You Run Away” appears to be an obvious statement about Page’s departure, even though it speaks vaguely enough to work as a break-up song. It’s an unlikely lead single for a band known for more humorous, upbeat releases (i.e. “One Week,” “Pinch Me” and “Another Postcard”). It’s also an impressive showcase for Ed Robertson, who co-founded BNL with Page and shared lead vocal duties, but has often been pigeon-holed as the goofier of the two, a singer with less of a vocal range and a fondness for rapping. Here he evokes Page’s penchant for epic balladry and vocal dynamics while ironically calling out his former partner in crime.

The subject material shows up again in more boisterous tunes like the lively “Golden Boy” and the jaded, guitar-heavy “I Have Learned.” That honesty is refreshing, especially for a band not known for having such a venomous wit, but BNL is better off when getting nostalgic and earnest, such as the ‘70s AM radio homage of “Summertime” or the sprawling, esoteric “Ordinary.” Robertson does his best Glenn Frey imitation on the Eagles-esque “The Love We’re In.” On the surface, it seems a sober reevaluation of love but in truth, the singer appears to be pleading for physical love. Robertson’s knack for wordplay has always given his ballads a uniqueness that is true to the spirit of BNL.

Bassist Jim Creegan and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn take lead vocals on five of the album’s 14 tracks. Creegan and Hearn aren’t as powerful as Page was and wisely stay clear of even attempting to duplicate his style. Hearn’s delicate vulnerability shines on the cheerfully cynical “Another Heartbreak” and the dreamlike, cascading rhythms of “Watching the Northern Lights,” while Creegan’s vibrant vocals carry the soulful “I Saw It.”

There is no mistaking that the Barenaked Ladies miss Page’s dynamic tenor and catchy melodies. He led many of the band’s best known songs, and was a major presence in the band.  The band does their best to move on and takes many admirable departures from convention. It’s a different Barenaked Ladies, but also a much better album than could have been expected.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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