“Indecision” (Steven Page Cover)

Originally posted 2010-07-26 23:29:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

As is our way around here at the Laptop Sessions, I’ve decided to celebrate the release of a new track with an acoustic cover song music video.

Big surprise given the title of our blog, eh?

Well, tonight I bring you my performance of Steven Page’s forthcoming single “Indecision” off his first solo album proper: Page One (pun intended, I’m sure!), due out September 28th.  He just announced the title and track listing yesterday, and I was able to find a live performance on YouTube that sounded like classic Steven Page.  It was somewhat difficult to hear the intricacies of the vocals and guitars over the drum sound — due to the quality of the recording — but I have a feeling that the actual studio recording is going to be great.

And I only have to wait a day to find out!

That’s right; I hurried to record this version of the song as a means of honoring and advertising the new release.  I’m hoping you’ll like my take on the song enough to click over to iTunes tomorrow and download this track.  I’ll be there.  Probably at midnight just in case it’s up immediately…

One of the main reasons I took the time today to figure out the chords and lyrics is that I can think of no better way, as a musician and singer/songwriter myself, of enjoying a great new song than learning the words and chords to be able to play along with it.

So, without further ado, I give you my take on this new Steven Page track.  I hope this is incentive enough for you to check out the real deal tomorrow, and the full album in a couple months…

See you next session!

The Weekend Review: January 2012 Report

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Fallen Empires (Snow Patrol)

Producer: Jacknife Lee

Released: January 10, 2012

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Called Out in the Dark” & “The Symphony”

With an overall sound and feel crossing entirely too closely to that of 2006’s Eyes Open for my taste, Fallen Empires is no match for the best work in Snow Patrol’s catalog.  Since the departure of Mark McClelland, their approach has veered away from the feel of 2003’s excellent Final Straw, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given the achievements of A Hundred Million Suns (2008) as an album.  Already, Fallen Empires has risen above this immediate predecessor in chart rankings in most countries.  Though it is clearly an inferior, less artful, less fully rendered effort than A Hundred Million Suns, this album does have its moments: it kicks off strongly, and “Called Out in the Dark” is an excellent track.  The next several tracks hold their weight until a fade is taken on the title track.  From the middle to the end of the album, it is a hit or miss affair with some songs sounding half-baked, others coming across as masterful (see: the lively, catchy “The Symphony” or the aptly chosen – albeit fourth – single “In the End”). 

 

 

 

Those Around Us (Jim Fusco)

Producer: Jim Fusco

Released: January 13, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Chameleon” & “Opportunities”

For several records now, Jim Fusco’s advertising rhetoric has focused on the theme of continuous improvement, on the idea that the album in question is at least one step forward from the previous one.  While That’s All Jim (2003) will forever stand higher in my estimation than What About Today? (2005), I had to admit that the technical expertise, songwriting, production quality, and concept of the latter were indeed a step forward from the former.  Then, when Halfway There was released in 2009, it would have been difficult to argue that it was not Fusco’s best record.  Now, with the arrival of Those Around Us, it is time again to weight the question: does this most recent release truly outshine the previous record?  More on that after the review…  The brighter, crisper sound of Those Around Us is the logical progression from the clean, sharp innovations that were immediately apparent on Halfway There, though it is less a progression than an extension of that sound, with the single greatest difference being the addition of crunchy distortion on the electric guitars throughout, in addition to the new instruments introduced this time around.  Several songs would have fit seamlessly into Halfway, most notably the live, tuning-up feel of “Run My Way” kicking of the album much like “A Night  Away” revved up Halfway’s “b-side” and the upbeat, vocally driven rock track “Opportunities.”  And yet it would not be fair to suggest that Those Around Us is some sort of Halfway There, Part Two (or would it be called All the Way There?).  This album offers some unique tracks heretofore unequaled in the Jim Fusco catalog.  The standout track is clearly “Chameleon” which, as was the case with Halfway’s “I Got You,” showcases an impressive leap forward in terms of lead vocal, instrumentation, and overall songwriting quality.  The brilliance of “Chameleon” lies in its use of the high and low ranges, mixing the bright guitar and keys with the dull throb of a disappointed-sounding bass line.  Other standouts include “In Your Head,” one of the most naturally fast-paced Fusco songs to date, and “Helpless,” if not as much for its overall quality then for its out-of-time feel and for featuring what is perhaps the least recognizable, least predictable guitar part on the record.  Elsewhere, the sequencing of the album is typically thoughtful, as in “Chameleon” – a song about appearances, adaptation, blending in and thus fading away – being followed by an extension of the visual/appearances theme in “Look Around,” which is also notable for being Fusco’s first recorded performance on lap steel, unless you count his part on the May 2009 Laptop Sessions cover of the Wilco / Woody Guthrie song “Jolly Banker.”  Elsewhere on the album, there are several aspects that either confuse previous sentiments from Fusco’s music or demonstrate maturation.  Take, for instance, “Choose Your Words (Carefully)” – which, for the record, seems less a referendum than a lecture – and its track two advice; seven years ago, he used the second track to instead assert that you “can’t count on words to fill the space between.”  This is an interesting modification of that original suggestion.  Another notable difference comes in the closing track.  “How Are You Feeling Tonight?” marks the first time Fusco has ended an album with an interrogative song since 2003 (That’s All Jim’s “Where Do We Go From Here?; before that, he ended side one of 2002’s My Other Half with “Why Do You?” and side three with “What Did I Expect?”).  This most recent question track is a departure in the sense that it closes with the refrain: “Try to live just for today, hey…,” whereas the other three end by fading out with the question still unanswered (though, to be fair, “What Did I Expect?” offers syntactical challenges that would easily merit a ten page paper to fully deconstruct, and that’s a task for another day…).  What this structural difference suggests is not entirely clear, though it is in keeping with the declarative nature of the record’s other songs, which taken as a whole constitute a series of observations and, ultimately, recommendations: Fusco sings “Choose Your Words (Carefully),” “Don’t Give Up,” “if she’s the one, believe in me, you would know,” “just don’t put off what you can take right now,” “Look Around,” and “in your head, it always comes out the way you choose it; in your head, you live at the top until you lose it,” in addition to reminding us – in a slight variation on “Follow You Home” – of that classic theme “you can never go home again.”  Ultimately, the technical achievements of Those Around Us cannot be denied, particularly in Fusco’s nice overall use of reverb, distinct instrumentation, and (as the bonus tracks further prove) vocal arrangement.  However, there are several facets of Halfway There which, I would argue, serve to maintain its position as the best Jim Fusco album to date: namely, there is a certain longing, a sense of innocent questioning, exploration and discovery, and raw displeasure that surge through the 2009 album that simply isn’t present here.  This is not to undermine the strengths of Those Around Us, but rather to put them in relative perspective.  To my thinking, and I’ve often seemed alone in this critical stance, My Other Half still stands as the second best album in Fusco’s catalog (for its conceptual sequencing, ambitious strides in songwriting and packaging, and for its raw, unsettled emotion), placing Those Around Us in a smack down with That’s All Jim.  As must as I love the latter, I’m pretty certain the former would triumph in the end. 

 

 

 

A Different Sort of Solitude [Mini-EP/Single] (Steven Page)

Producer: Steven Page

Released: January 17, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “A Different Sort of Solitude” & “Manchild”

While I find it difficult to be excited about a mere two song EP two years after Page’s first album was released, I suppose we can’t expect more than for him to “make art when inspiration blows [his way],” as he sings in “Manchild.”  In that sense, this “mini-EP” – aka glorified single – is a tease, as both songs are clearly not throwaways from Page One but new, fully realized compositions with a tendency toward the expansive and epic in their soundscapes.  If anything, the theme of separation and recreation of one’s identity is stronger and more focused here than it was on his debut album, a thread that’s made clear up front in a title like “A Different Sort of Solitude.”  One has to wonder if “Manchild” is a significant title given Page’s long tenure as a Lady, but perhaps that’s just the BnL fan in me stretching things a bit…

 

 

 

Clear Heart Full Eyes (Craig Finn)

Producer: Mike McCarthy

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “”Honolulu Blues” & “Not Much Left of Us”

There is something truly beautiful about a solo project from the front man for a rock band that redefines his sound while retaining his core attributes and maintaining the interest and edge of a full band effort.  Craig Finn has achieved this sort of stark, perhaps even raw beauty on his solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes.  As soon as the opening chords of the first track, “Apollo Baby,” there is just a hint of a gorgeous sort of menacing snarl that pervades the record.  The instrumentation on Clear Heart is stripped down in comparison to the Hold Steady’s typical arrangements of Finn’s songs, but it is far from minimalist; on most tracks, there are one or two guitar parts with distinct parts, unique bass tracks that add cohesion, and a drum beat to drive the progression.  Even though Finn’s themes here are as serious as ever and perhaps a little more so in some places, there is an unmistakable sense that he is having the time of his life.  It may be written off as a side effect of his lead vocals being stronger, higher in the mix than usual, but it is difficult not to feel the smile – or is it a smirk? – in “New Friend Jesus” or not to sense the general lyrical force and vocal conviction offered up by Finn throughout.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and tracks like the character tale “Jackson,” the rootsy romp “Honolulu Blues,” the sparse, devastating “Rented Room,” and the heartbreakingly perfect closer “Not Much Left of Us” will stand among the best songs in his catalog.  While I hope this solo detour doesn’t extend the time between Hold Steady records too much, I also hope that he’ll find his way back to a solo record in the not-so-distant future. 

 

 

 

iTunes Session (Wilco)

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “War on War” & “Cruel to Be Kind”

I’ll preface this by admitting that if Wilco wasn’t one of my favorite bands of all time (top ten, if not top five), then I would never have considered spending money for what is essentially a live-in-the-studio rehash of tracks from last year’s The Whole Love, with the lead single from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and a deep track from A.M. (1995) thrown in, topped off with a cover of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” with the man himself taking lead vocal duties.  This being said, while there’s nothing really new here, there is the tremendous take on YHF-alum “War on War” and a general sense of vitality in their performances.  While I can’t in good faith rate this iTunes Session higher than three stars, I do recommend it for diehard Wilco fans.  Others should download The Whole Love in its entirety, as it was the best album from 2011 and perhaps the second best Wilco album of all time. 

 

 

 

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (Various Artists)

Producers: Jeff Ayeroff & Julie Yannatta

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Ring Them Bells” (Natasha Bedingfield) & “One Too Many Mornings” (Johnny Cash, [Bob Dylan,] and the Avett Brothers)

What a mess.  One would think that, what with nearly eighty tracks assembled from a widely varied and not-so-untested array of artists, a compilation of this depth and breadth – referring to both artist and song choice – would have enough gems to make its purchase worthwhile. Instead, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International largely function as a reminder that there is no replacement for artistry and, often, perfection the first time around.  The only truly great track here is the only one previously released: the title track, from Dylan’s 1964 acoustic album Another Side of Bob Dylan.  There are standouts, of course, in the efforts of artists like Natasha Bedingfield, Brett Dennen, Patti Smith, Jack’s Mannequin, Elvis Costello, and others.  There is remarkably strong work from artists that surprised me – most notably Rise Against’s take on “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and Raphael Saadiq’s better-than-competent cover of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” (though none will ever top Beck’s version).  And then there are the other sixty-something songs, less than half of which are bearable enough to be termed mediocre.  The majority are simply uninspired, and an uncomfortably high number are utter garbage.  The only truly surprising jewel is a reworking of The Times They Are A-Changin’ alum “One Too Many Mornings” by the Avett Brothers, who were granted access to the session held with both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan early in the 1970’s, when Dylan was still in the heart of his “Lay, Lady, Lay” voice phase.  I have yearned to hear fully rendered songs from this reportedly spotty (in terms of quality) session, and the Avett Brothers have done this track justice.  At the end of the day, my consolation arrives in the knowledge that the proceeds here go to Amnesty International, and I wish I could recommend more than a handful of – maybe ten at best – tracks.

 

 

 

Ringo 2012 (Ringo Starr)

Producer: Ringo Starr

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 starrs

Top Two Tracks: “Wonderful” & “In Liverpool”

Ringo Starr returns to rock after but a brief absence – a mere two weeks more than two years since Y Not was released – and this time without an embarrassing title and without the song quality falling apart at the end.  It would be disingenuous to suggest Ringo 2012 is a return to pre-Y Not form, as it is no less a hodgepodge than its predecessor, an album on which Ringo collaborated with someone different to write every track, as well as returning to a previously recorded track.  Ringo 2012 follows the same pattern, including a cover of a thirties folk song (“Rock Island Line”), a Buddy Holly cover (“Think It Over,” first released last year on the Listen To Me: Buddy Holly tribute album), and two re-recorded songs (“Wings” from 1977’s Ringo the 4th and “Step Lightly” from 1973’s Ringo).  This leaves a mere five wholly original tracks.  Even still, this latest Ringo album bears the marks of an artist who has worked to make a cohesive compilation of songs.  They are smartly sequenced, the best being saved for (almost) last, namely the beautifully arranged, heartfelt “Wonderful” and “In Liverpool,” which somehow manages to transcend being the token “remember when I was a boy on the verge of becoming a Beatle” track.  The rest fall in line well: despite its brevity, “Think It Over” is fun and well arranged, of all the tracks to revisit, “Wings” fits well here as the single, and “Slow Down,” despite bearing the oh-so-obvious songwriting influence of Joe Walsh (see: Y Not’s “Fill in the Blanks for comparison), is an excellent, upbeat closing track whose energy defies its title.  In the end, Ringo 2012 won’t change the world, but it will make you want to tap your feet, dance and sing, or play along, not to mention crossing your fingers that Ringo continues to be so prolific.

 

 

 

Old Ideas (Leonard Cohen)

Producer: Ed Sanders

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Darkness” & “Different Sides”

In a fast-paced world, Leonard Cohen refuses to hasten his step to draw us in.  Listening to a Leonard Cohen album requires attention and patience to fully appreciate its lyrical and musical nuances, and Old Ideas is no exception.  There is a timeless quality to this album, a sense throughout that the songs could have been written at any time during the past one hundred years.  Yet they weren’t written long ago and they are not covers; these are brand new tracks, and clearly driven by Cohen’s passion.  What I find most intriguing about Old Ideas is the manner in which Cohen manages to interweave elements of the sad and the sensual, taking the gruffness of turn-of-the-century Dylan vocals and flavoring it with a subtle array of inflections that make it inextricable from the casual beauty of the instrumental arrangements.  “Darkness” is as close as the album gets to an up-tempo track, and it is driven along by some of the strongest lyrics on the album; as the song continues, so the darkness spreads as though it were a contagion whisking away pleasures both present and past.  Likewise, “Different Sides” kicks off with one of the best opening lines: “We find ourselves on different sides of a line nobody drew.”  This closing track incorporates all the best elements from the nine that precede it: crisp, grumbling Cohen vocals, silky smooth female background vocals, an organ hovering somewhere between lilting and mournful, and percussion that holds the piece together.  In short, Old Ideas is a strong effort with consistently arranged and strongly poetic tracks, and though some do fade into the mix there are several that stand out as more, elements able to stand apart from the rest and yet encapsulate the beauty and sorrow of the overall record.

REVIEW: Steven Page’s “Page One” (2010) – Special to the LS Blog

Originally posted 2010-11-30 12:30:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Ben Neal:

RATING: 4.5 / 5 stars

The first album I ever fell in love with was BNL’s Maroon, which was the band’s last real presence on the consciousness of the mainstream public (in America, at least). Maroon starts out light and entertaining enough with the first five songs, but the back half of the album was where the beauty was to be found. Each track became progressively darker and dealt with issues varying from adultery to a cynical view of idealism to celebrity and political satire with a great level of success. I still listen to it as much as I did that Fall of 2001, and like a great novel or a great film it still packs the same punch, even though the songs mean something different for me than they did back then. From that point on, I was hooked on BNL and in particular, the songs sung by Steven Page. Page’s songs always had a certain quintessential quality: contrasting bright sounds with dark lyrics that always had a bit of irony and double meaning, and he was never afraid to look back and be referential towards his influences, be they musical or literary.

Why am I writing about a decade-old album when reviewing Steven Page’s latest album Page One? In some ways, Page One represents the full evolution of an artist and capitalizes on the potential of Maroon, both musically and thematically. Where Maroon was ultimately about taking (or at least, trying or wanting to) charge and control of one’s life, Page One is about finally doing just that.

Page One kicks off with “A New Shore”, a metaphorical journey about beginning anew and being hopeful, and frankly I can think of no better way for Page to start this album. It’s a song you did not expect, from the horn-heavy composition to the hopeful nature of the song; whereas many fans expected this is to be a more morbid record, this is a signal we are in for a more optimistic and bright album that anyone could have expected. While the story of the song is told via nautical references, the subtext is pretty clear and addresses his departure from his role as a “black mark” in a cheerful band by saying “I forget whether I was pushed or jumped aboard and after all of this time what is the difference?” “A New Shore”’s use of metaphor is a reminder that some of the best BNL songs were always told by allegory (a la “Bank Job” or “When I Fall”).

Indecision is a rather odd choice to follow-up A New Shore, since it seems to be a polar opposite to the latter’s emphasis on making a change and being happy with it. “Indecision” actually dates back a few years and was never included on BNL albums due to their shift away from songs co-written by anyone outside of the band, and is reminiscent of songs like “Upside Down” or “Bull in a China Shop.” That being said, it is a very strong song that represents some of the best sounds you will hear on most contemporary albums, even if it feels slightly out of place on this album. Ironically, it makes a good retro-response to “I Have Learned”’s, where Ed Robertson sings “You’re not comfortable until you’re not/when things get wonderful, you get hot.”

Next up is the folksy, but extremely powerful “Clifton Springs,” which Page has described as one of the most personal songs on the album. It follows a pretty straightforward personal narrative that, ironically, tells the story of the pratfalls of not trusting yourself and of being held hostage by “indecision.”

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

Up next is what some would call an anti-matrimonial trilogy of “Entourage,” “Marry Me,” and “All the Young Monogamists.” However, I don’t see these songs as an attack on marriage or monogamy at all. “Entourage” in the tradition of “Sell Sell Sell” and “Celebrity” represents a biting satire on the state of big time celebrity, whereas “Marry Me” and “Monogamists” examine marriage and serious relationships from a jaded perspective to be sure (this is Steven Page, after all), but they both ultimately embrace the relationships. “Monogamists” also has been self-described by Page as his first true love song, albeit one with jaded protagonists and features some beautiful strings and is one of the album’s highlights.

“She’s Trying to Save Me” and “Over Joy” represent a change both musically and thematically from the earlier songs in the album and sound like reminiscent fresh pop music from the 60s and 70s, yet deal with the destructive effects that depression can have on relationships. Page has always soared highest in my mind when singing about these issues (“This is Where It Ends,” “War on Drugs,” etc.) and does not disappoint here. In particular, “Over Joy” is an amazingly beautiful song that is perfectly produced and Page’s voice is wonderful here with every inflection expertly enacted. “Over Joy” also does what Page does best: contrast dark lyrics with a sunny composition (see “So.Cal” from The Vanity Project as another example). Personally, I find it to be my favorite track on this excellent album.

The next three tracks could not be more divergent. “If You Love Me” is a brazen and bold track that borders on camp, but ultimately works more than I could have ever imagined and serves as a reminder of Page’s origins as a Duran Duran (the original lead singer of Duran Duran, Stephen Duffy co-wrote much of the album with Page) devotee. “Leave Her Alone” is as Chris Moore noted in his review, a quite dynamic track and one that harkens back to the “big band” era of yesteryear. Like “When You Dream” from Stunt, it speaks to parenthood, but from a very different perspective. “Queen of America,” on the other hand is unlike anything I’ve heard from the BNL/Page canon before. It tells the story of a drag queen and explores how gay culture is often co-opted by mainstream society, and the indulgent overproduction of this track makes its sound and theme quite ironic. One of the most interesting elements of these songs is how they illustrate how various songs on this album fit in nicely with the music of probably six decades and none of the tracks are predictable.

This finally brings me to “The Chorus, Girl.” I include the comma because, in classic Page fashion, the title has a double meaning: the song is about the Chorus, girl and not a girl in a chorus line. This is an amazing and transcendent song with an almost epic and universal appeal, and is about the difficulty in creating art and the danger in trying to be Everything to Everyone whether in art or in life. In some ways, it serves a nice bookend to “Running Out of Ink” as its essentially about having trouble with the creative process, but this song works on a macro-level where “Ink” addressed these issues on a more micro level. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful song and stands out as probably the best of the album and one of the best of his career. From the first few chords to the “la la la”s at the end, it is a song to behold and treasure.

While it has flaws (namely a couple instances of overproduction and due to being written over a number of years, lacking cohesion), Page One represents some of Page’s best work to date and is an album to behold, treasure, and undoubtedly listen to, over and over and over for years to come. It represents the full evolution of a great artist and packs an emotional punch without feeling too weighty. It also, thankfully, brings us the return of Page’s songwriting partnership with Stephen Duffy. In the early BNL era he co-wrote songs such as “Jane,” “Call and Answer,” and the powerful, but never recorded “Powder Blue”; but in an effort to make the band more member-centric, a decision was made to only record songs from within the band so his songs did not make the cut for the last several BNL albums.  While it’s sad to see the Page/Robertson songwriting duo come to an end, it’s refreshing to see the return of the Duffy partnership.

As I close, I was struck by the similarities (despite being very different artists) of two of the favorites of the Laptop Sessions (and me personally):  Steven Page and Jakob Dylan. Both were quasi-one hit wonders from the 1990s remembered for a super-hit song. Ironically, both their best works came in the years immediately after their peak of popularity (Maroon for Page and  Breach and Red Letter Days for Dylan). Both always fought various preconceptions of being silly or being known for/compared to who their father was; both are not afraid to be self-referential/depreciating in their music (“Hand Me Down” or “Box Set”), both vary through musical genres with ease and unpredictability, and both are two of the finest and fearless artists of their generation.

Steven Page’s “Page One” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-11-14 12:02:02. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

Coming on the heels of the excellent post-Page BnL disc All in Good Time, “expectations” would be the key word when considering the aptly-titled Page One.  Steven Page has already released two solo albums, but the Vanity Project was a side project (with much less risk involved) and A Singer Must Die with the Art of Time Ensemble was… well, covers played with an ensemble.  They were both excellent: the former in and of itself and the latter for what it was.

In all practicality, Page One is the first true Steven Page solo album.

As such, it is an exercise in expressing his talents across a variety of genres.  Some are tracks that could have fit seamlessly on previous Barenaked Ladies records.  Others would simply never have fit in that venue.

This aforementioned variety is perhaps the most appealing feature of his debut.  After all, the power pop appeal of such tracks as “Indecision” can only extend so far before one begins to go numb (taking notes, Brendan Benson?).  And, with the exception of several moments of overproduced indulgence on tracks like “Entourage” and “Queen of America,” the dynamics of these twelve diverse tracks are admirably balanced to attain cohesion as an album.

And there are several moments of absolute perfection in style, sound, and tone.  Take the opening lines of the first song, “A New Shore:”  “As captain of this band of merry sailors I’m a black mark I’m a failure/So before you watch me drown/I’m relinquishing command for something I don’t understand/this man’s about to turn his whole life upside down.”  Under any other circumstances, this nautical analogy might seem forced or cliched.  However, as it marks his departure from the extraordinarily successful band that has served as the anchor (see, I can do it too!) of his entire musical career up to this point, it seems quite appropriate.

While I follow the juxtaposition of the “merry sailors,” arguably the other four members of BnL, and the color “black,” perhaps to indicate the more serious, introverted nature of Page’s material — think: “Bad Day” on the otherwise joyous and goofy Snacktime! — the term “failure” would seem an over-exaggeration.

Still, there are many fans of the nineties rock group who consider Page’s departure a betrayal.  Some go so far as to condemn Page’s conduct in the year leading up to his exit as immoral and unforgivable.

Had this cocaine bust occurred several decades earlier or in a different band, he would have been elevated a level into rock superstar iconography, the stuff of legends.

Occurring when it did, and being who he is, Page has been vilified by the contingent of so-called family-friendly fans.

And yet, disappointed as I was to learn of the breakup, I did appreciate Page’s attitude.  As he told one interviewer, “I keep saying to fans, ‘Just think: you get a two-for-one now. You get their records and my records.'”

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

This record tells a story of internal conflict, expressed in a direct and personal manner that would arguably have lost some resonance as the product of five member band.  “Indecision” is the second track, the first single, and a signpost of sorts.  If Page One is an exploration of the recent dramatic events of his life, then “Indecision” introduces the first of the destructive forces at work: namely, indecisiveness.

As Page sings, “I’m predisposed to have it/Happiest when I don’t know what to do/I want to settle down like my father/I want to run away like my mother ought to.”

This track may be read as a response of sorts to the Barenaked Ladies’ own 2010 single “You Run Away.”  In that song, fell0w BnL co-founder Ed Robertson sings, “I’ll give you something you can cry about/One thing you should try it out/Hold a mirror shoulder high/When you’re older look you in the eye.”  Page is clearly doing this, rooting his insecurities in analogies of the family (mother/father), and admitting that he thrives on a degree of ambiguity and perhaps even crisis.

The song that follows, “Clifton Springs,” is ostensibly a character narrative, and yet Page’s delivery of certain lines resonates as though the story speaks to a deeper, more personal connection.  He sings, “My stigmata’s the regret for how/I could have let it all/Go so wrong.”  The question here is, of course, does Page intend simply to create a story or is this an outlet for expressing his own sentiments?  Other lines like “You’ve got to do what’s best for yourself” and references to “the ghosts of a life” coalesce with the thematic tones that recur across the other eleven tracks and seem to point to the latter.

(Still, devotee of the school of Dylan that I am, I acknowledge that speculation out of proportion can only serve to obscure music, not clarify it.)

The subsequent three tracks provide an array of perspectives on fidelity in general and marriage in particular.  In “Entourage,” the singer seeks immediate pleasure in the form of sex, elevating the quest by the end of the song to state, “Now we’re through with morality,/can I sleep with your wife?/I want to be like you/And your entourage/Tonight.”

“Marry Me” follows with a proposal of marriage, albeit a decidedly perfunctory one, as it comes with the rationale “I know it’s the same all over the world.”  The layers are further peeled back to reveal the heart of this figure’s matrimonial leanings: “Marry me…/Without our love, we’d just be normal people marching forward/Normal people? Who? You and Me? It can’t be!”  In each case — the looser groupie and the norm-conscious fiance-to-be — the ultimate motivation is satisfaction, whether it be physical or psychological.

The third installment in this anti-matrimonial trilogy is “All the Young Monogamists,” in which the singer and his partner observe the young couples they see, smiling to themselves as they “know what’s in store.”  As Page sings, “As they gaze into the eyes/Of the one they love/They can feel inside of them/That this is not enough.”  After expressing this existential emptiness and offering up four unpromising outcomes — tiring out, running away, sleeping around, or settling — the narrator ultimately finds himself coming full circle as he embarks on a monogamous relationship, promising “I will always be true to you.”

So, there is some optimism to cling to, after all.

This is followed by the one-two power-pop punch of “She’s Trying to Save Me” and “Over Joy,” songs which explore that second destructive force: depression.  This is a familiar force, one which has crept into the undertones — and, sometimes, overtones — of Page’s previous work.  And these are excellent, if not groundbreaking, efforts.  The former has “second single” written all over it, and the latter comes off as the Vanity Project’s answer to Wilco’s “Please Be Patient With Me.”

I would have pegged a track nine with a title like “If You Love Me” to be the mid-album slow song, but no dice.  The rock rolls on.  The phrasing here is of interest, placing the onus of relationship maintenance on the other party.  “IF you love me,” Page sings, “Everything will be all right tonight.”

“Leave Her Alone” follows, and is arguably the most dynamic track on the album.  If “All the Young Monogamists” could have been a candidate for A Singer Must Die, then “Leave Her Alone” is a brilliant blend between rock, pop, big band, and orchestral music.  This song boasts some of the strongest and bluntest lyrics, ranging from eloquent introspection (“Rephrasing the hazing amazed at/how cruel men could be,/I saw they were no different from me”) to baser internal rhymes (“And subsequent cities were shitty as well”).

Then comes “Queen of America,” the one song I’ve been unable to place on the Page One spectrum.  Truth be told, it sounds like an outtake from a Scissor Sisters album in topic, tone, and closing voice-over.

Page One wraps up fittingly with “The Chorus Girl,” the first of his songs to take a deep breath.  I’ll leave this one for you to discover on your own, but suffice it to say that every other song is a step leading up to this track.

Oh, and there is a winking reference to cocaine to rival Ed Robertson’s All in Good Time line, “You crash the party, I’ll crash the plane.”

In most respects, Page One lives up to expectations.  There is no denying that it is bittersweet to hold the BnL and Steven Page releases side by side and to realize that they each contain aspects that the other does not, and perhaps cannot.  This being said, I see no value in lamenting the breakup.  Instead, it would be best that fans follow Page’s logic and embrace this two-for-one deal.  If we respect and perhaps even trust these five men, this split must have been a positive and necessary development, and it has at the very least yielded some of the most urgent, passionate music of their recent career.

If only for now, that should be enough.