Imagine a shrine for all great sayings, a Pop Psychology Hall of Fame if you will. On these special walls you'd find such stalwarts as "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger," "Tomorrow's Another Day" and "Everything Happens For A Reason." Right over there the "Light At The End of The Tunnel" stands next to "The Great Unknown." Sure, these sayings are ubiquitous; repeated down through the ages as mantra for some, cliché for others. But now, after 20 years together, Barenaked Ladies are taking time to walk these halls and learn from another bon mot, All In Good Time.
Yes, All In Good Time is the name of the new album, the 11th from this Canadian institution, and their first as a new four-piece. Fourteen bold and adventurous new tracks, recorded in Toronto in the spring and summer of 2009, find Ed Robertson (guitar/vocals), Jim Creeggan (bass/vocals), Kevin Hearn (keyboard/guitar/vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums/vocals) exploring a very creative and fertile phase of their careers.
"There was a little more room for people to breathe on this record" says Robertson. "It's more rocking in places and it stretches out and becomes more spacious in others. It was a really good feeling in the studio, with everyone very comfortable together and Michael at the helm."
Robertson is referring to ace producer and long-time BNL collaborator Michael Phillip Wojewoda, who produced the band's very first full length CD, 1992's Gordon. Wojewoda jumped at the chance to capture the group's rebirth as a quartet. "The newness of the situation inspired the band to stretch musically," says Wojewoda. "Even though there were challenges, they jumped in headfirst with enthusiasm and passion. The results are very exciting. It was great to be part of that."
The move from five to four could be a tough transition for a lesser group, but Barenaked Ladies are no ordinary rock band. Founded as a duo in 1988 by schoolmates Ed Robertson and Steven Page, the group soon grew to five members and took Canada by storm with their five-song indie cassette, The Yellow Tape.
Over the next decade-plus, their albums Gordon, Rock Spectacle, Stunt and Maroon went multi-platinum in the U.S., and Barenaked Ladies became a top-selling, award-winning concert draw across North America and The U.K. with their frenetic blend of high-energy melodic-pop, crack musicianship and spontaneous repartee.
Ed Robertson, the primary songwriter since the birth of the band, took a moment to share how the writing process for All In Good Time was different from past Barenaked Ladies albums. "This was a chance for me to shed some of my writing dependencies, both good and bad, and explore new ground. I allowed myself to go places that I might not have in the past. I was more literal at times, and more abstract at others, pushing the self-imposed limits I'd adhered to for too long. The writing was cathartic for me in a way that writing hadn't been since the early nineties. It had been a huge and often dark year: an arrest, a plane crash and the death of my mother. All of these things took a heavy toll on my psyche, and spurred a lot of serious exploring."
Regarding the line-up change in Barenaked Ladies, Robertson is very candid: "Our relationship with Steve Page was great and very fruitful. It lasted almost 20 years, but it was time to move on. Now we're doing something that feels really fresh and exciting to me. His departure left four singers and three multi-instrumentalists in the band, so we're not lacking for musical ideas, and now there's more room for the other writers in the band to bring songs to the table."
The results of Robertson's personal explorations can be heard in the standout first track/lead single "You Run Away," a story of missed opportunities and remorse: "I tried to be your brother / You cried and ran for cover/ I made a mess, who doesn't? / I did my best but it wasn't enough. "
In the brisk, angular rocker "How Long," Robertson kicks off the lines "Give it up for Anger, it makes us strong!" another echo of recent years for the famous father of three.
On the power-pop "Every Subway Car," the founding singer/guitarist takes on the angst of a love-struck guerilla artiste: "Soon the world will see / Our graffiti love/ Belton on my glove/ They'll wonder who you are on every subway car."
Finally, Robertson finds three rhymes for the apparently unrhymable word Orange in a Django Reinhardt meets Jay-Z beer-hall sing-along called "Four Seconds": "Oh Flip, The light is turning Orange / Coat ripped, when I caught it in the door hinge/ I slipped when the lady in the 4 inch / Bought it in a store in Germany." Even after a couple of years of ups and downs, Barenaked Ladies have hung on to their abstract senses of humor. For bassist Jim Creeggan, who sings the jaunty "On The Look Out" and the soulful "I Saw It," the latter a meditation on teenaged bullying, the current version of Barenaked Ladies is breaking important new ground: "I think the band is moving forward with a clearer collective understanding of who we are, and what is at stake. Leaving Steve was one of the hardest things we've had to do and we each had to weigh in on why the band was important enough for us to continue. We came to the conclusion that the band was only worth saving if we supported one another and strove for a healthy dynamic between us. So far it's been amazing and the most creative time I can remember having with the group." Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn echoes Creeggan's notions of personal and creative growth within the band. Hearn brought three new songs to the table for All In Good Time: the symphonic "Another Heartbreak," the surreal ghost town travelogue "Jerome" and the luxuriously groovy "Watching The Northern Lights," all of which showcase his unique, fragile voice. "I brought my songs in with sketches of how I heard them," says the former St. Michael's choirboy. "They were further shaped by the guys and MPW's input. I didn't try to write ‘BNL' songs, per se, rather I just tried to write songs that felt honest to me, and I knew they would be in good hands within the band."
The result of new contributions from within is a recording that is stylistically adventurous, musically diverse and the most emotionally riveting and honest work by the band to date.
"We had a bizarre year in 08," says drummer and vocalist Tyler Stewart. "A lot of upheaval, a lot of changes, but 12 months later we're stronger than we've ever been. We had to dig deep and redefine ourselves. Right now it feels really, really good to be in Barenaked Ladies."
In-depth Biography By combining humor with an eclectic mix of folk and pop/rock, the Barenaked Ladies enjoyed considerable popularity in their native Canada before rising to international status with 1998's "One Week." Vocalists Ed Robertson and Steve Page launched the band in the late '80s as an acoustic act, traveling to different college campuses and playing warm-up gigs for comedy troupes. These early shows played an important role in the group's foundation, as Robertson and Page began injecting their performances with humorous exchanges to hold their audiences' attention between songs. The trick worked, and the band's mixture of comedy and musicianship was cemented.
Following the duo's tour of the college circuit, the Barenaked Ladies expanded into a tight musical group with the addition of bass man Jim Creeggan, his brother Andy on keyboards, and drummer Tyler Stewart. Several cassette tapes were released and helped increase the band's local popularity, but 1991's Yellow Tape was a different animal, selling so rapidly that it soon became the first independently released tape to reach platinum status in Canada. The hype was compounded by the fact that Toronto's mayor, June Rowlands, considered the band's name to be sexist and demeaning to women, and therefore forbade the Barenaked Ladies from playing a 1991 New Year's Eve concert near City Hall. The story found its way onto the front page of The Toronto Star, and sales for Yellow Tape promptly soared. Meanwhile, record labels had begun approaching the band with attractive offers, and BNL soon signed with Sire/Reprise and issued their full-length debut, Gordon, in 1992. Featuring "Be My Yoko Ono," "If I Had a $1,000,000," and "Brian Wilson," the album moved over one million units and initiated BNL's reign as Canadian pop kings.
At the height of grunge's popularity, producer Ben Mink came on board to helm 1994's Maybe You Should Drive, a mellow folk-pop album. Songs like "Alternative Girlfriend" and "Jane" became college radio favorites, but changes loomed on the horizon. Before the bandmates could collect themselves for a third album, Andy Creeggan left the lineup in order to finish college abroad, and Look People guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Hearn hopped on board for BNL's joint tour with Billy Bragg. Hearn joined the group as a permanent member in time for 1996's obscuro-pop album Born on a Pirate Ship, and the band charted new celebrity territory by appearing on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 to perform their Top 40 hit "The Old Apartment." Success in the U.S. came fast, and BNL began selling out their summer shows. Selections from the tour were captured on the band's first live album, Rock Spectacle, an uninhibited effort (complete with improvised rapping and stage banter) that introduced a new audience to one of BNL's strongest assets -- their live shows. Rock Spectacle became BNL's first record to be certified gold in the U.S., and it paved the way for their biggest album to date.
Stunt, the group's fourth studio effort, was issued in July 1998 and transformed the Barenaked Ladies into stars in both the U.S. and U.K. Buoyed by the chart-topping single "One Week," the album debuted at number three on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over four million copies. BNL upgraded to stadium performances for their subsequent North American tour, leaving behind the theaters and clubs that housed their previous shows. In the meantime, Hearn took a half-year hiatus to recuperate from leukemia, having been diagnosed with the disease earlier that spring. Geggy Tah's Greg Kurstin and multi-instrumentalist Chris Brown filled in for Hearn on the Stunt tour. After a bone marrow transplant in October, Hearn was free of all cancerous cells, and BNL were reunited at their commercial peak. Maroon followed two years later and reached platinum status on the success of "Pinch Me"; it also netted the band two Juno Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Group, as well as a nomination for a Grammy. A greatest-hits collection, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001), was issued in fall 2001 to celebrate the band's first decade.
Two years later, BNL released Everything to Everyone and effectively fulfilled their contract with Reprise Records. The album sold relatively poorly, and Reprise neglected to offer an extended deal, thus returning the band to independent status for the first time since 1992. BNL responded by creating their own label, Desperation Records, which they used to release their next four albums. A holiday record, Barenaked for the Holidays, arrived in 2004, while the companion albums Barenaked Ladies Are Me and Barenaked Ladies Are Men were issued in 2006 and 2007, respectively. A children's album entitled Snacktime! followed in 2008, but the tour that followed its release was marred by Steve Page's arrest for cocaine possession. The band canceled several shows in response, and while the charges were later reduced to misdemeanors, Page nevertheless announced his decision to leave the group in early 2009. Thus reduced to a slimmed-down quartet, the band formed a new label, Raisin' Records, and returned in 2010 with All in Good Time, an album that featured lead vocals by Robertson, Hearn, and bassist Jim Creeggan. The greatest-hits compilation Hits from Yesterday & the Day Before was released in 2011, followed in 2012 by Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before!, which collected ten unissued tracks (demos, outtakes, live cuts, and studio B-sides) along with a pair of previously released rarities, all of which were recorded between 1992 and 2003. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi