Barenaked Ladies – Gordon Review
I have often been told that my music and vocal style sounds like that of the Barenaked Ladies – in particular Steven Page – many times before. The comparison is admittedly flattering and complementary.
I can’t say that I’ve always been a Barenaked Ladies fan or that they were ever my primary influence. They’ve just always kind of been there.
Still, I have memories of listening to them on vacation in Malaysia when I was a kid, and I also remember the big break they had with “One Week” when I was in high school.
A lot of people thought that the band was brand new when they broke into the U.S. market, but they had spent many years as independents, and released several demo tapes before they experienced any kind of mainstream success. Looking for a hardworking band? You’ve found one.
Gordon (affiliate link) is therefore their first official commercial release, in a matter of speaking. It sold extremely well in Canada, which is not surprising considering how polished and simultaneously quirky it was.
The Ladies cite artists like the B-52s, They Might Be Giants and “Weird Al” Yankovic as influences, and I suppose that is where some of the similarities between them and David Andrew Wiebe becomes more apparent.
“Weird Al” was a staple in my dad’s music collection, and I would later become obsessed with They Might Be Giants on my uncle’s recommendation. I have also had a love affair with New Wave music, and that’s where the B-52s fit in.
Both Yankovic and TMBG have influenced my approach to music significantly, though it doesn’t always come across lyrically. Musically speaking, I can draw some similarities (I often play acoustic guitar and use jazz chords; so do the Ladies).
As I sit back and listen to Gordon again, I am amazed at how every song is so recognizable. Again, it’s not like I wore out any of their CDs at any point. Somehow, this album has embedded itself into my subconscious without me being aware of it.
Many of the songs found here are fan favorites, and I’m partial to “Enid” and “Brian Wilson” myself. In a way, it’s almost like a Greatest Hits album. It’s what an album is supposed to be.
Gordon is serious, smart, sentimental, quirky and funny all at the same time. I think this is due in part to the chord progressions and harmonies. Though there are some frantic and upbeat numbers, there are also some slower, more laid-back songs like “Hello City”, “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” and “What A Good Boy.”
Gordon is also daring. I think it goes a lot of places perfectionists wouldn’t go. Just listen to Page nearly breaking out in laughter on “The King of Bedside Manor”, the weird vocals and tip-of-the-hats to Rush on “Grade 9” or the comedic call-and-response banter on “If I Had $1000000”, and you find a band that was willing to let it all hang out.
What is sometimes overlooked is that they are also backed by serious talent. They could write catchy pop hits and then turn around and write ballads or folk and bluegrass tunes. They could be poignant and heartwarming, and they could be equally lighthearted and fun. They could also pay homage to Rush within the context of their own songs.
My band mate Anna pointed out that the Barenaked Ladies sound like “frustrated jazz musicians,” and nowhere is that more apparent than on this record. Just listen to “Box Set,” and you’ll see what I mean.
I can’t call myself a frustrated jazz musician, because my roots are overwhelmingly in blues and classic rock. But I am easily bored with traditional open chords (“zombie” chords), and I have often used jazz chords and suspended chords in place of them. Again, that’s where I might share some things in common with the Ladies.
In all, this is a great collection of songs. Though the they can be enjoyed individually, this is one of those rare cases where the sum is better than its parts.