Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies

Maroon

WEA/Warner Brothers

Welcome to the new “mature” Barenaked Ladies. This merry band of wacky Canadians follows up their four-million-selling record Stunt with a new one that’s a little bit less glib, a little more grown up than most of their recorded output. Fortunately, BNL’s latest also retains their uncanny knack for pure pop melodies. That’s most evident on tracks like the opening “Too Little Too Late,” which combines sweet harmonies, shaken tambourine, big drums, and tasty guitars. And “Baby Seat,” which sounds like some lost hit from the ’80s, showcases singer Steven Page’s ability to hit high notes on its engaging chorus.

The record’s first single, “Pinch Me,” is the band’s attempt to duplicate the monster success of Stunt‘s “One Week.” It doesn’t quite have the immediacy or the pop culture reference barrage of that song, but it does have another one of Ed Robertson’s goofy motor-mouthed white boy raps. The song improves dramatically, however, once Page’s background vocals come up in the mix. “Go Home” does offer funny references to Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great in a catchy “mature” pop song about commitment: “If you need her, you should be there, go home,” Page sings.

But it’s about halfway through Maroon that BNL really starts to show us some things we haven’t seen them do much before. There is the cocktail jazz-y character piece “Conventioneers” about two co-workers who have an ill-advised fling at a convention. And on “Sell Sell Sell,” which features another rapid-fire vocal, this time from Page, the band tells the story of a has-been actor now doing commercials. However, none of this prepares you for the record’s penultimate track. “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” is a haunting, slow-motion first-person account of a fatal traffic accident set against banjo-and-accordion accompaniment. Page sings: “No commotion, no screaming brakes/Most of it’s over before I awake/ From the ceiling my coffee cup drips/ While out my window, the horizon does flips.” Not something you’re gonna want to listen to over and over, but the song does show the continuing growth of the band.

The bad news is Barenaked Ladies may never make a record as funny and as imbued with the love of music as their 1992 debut, Gordon. But on Maroon, it becomes clear that Barenaked Ladies are about more than just their wacky sense of humor. Far from a Canadian “Weird Al” Yankovic or a “One Week” one-hit-wonder, they are actually a band with some depth and that may be their ticket to lasting success.

Warner Brothers Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-6908

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