The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER TWO is Barenaked Ladies

Originally posted 2010-04-19 14:30:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the fourth in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

As we close in on my top pick for best rock artist of the decade, the decisions are getting more and more difficult.  In an attempt to be as unbiased as possible, I initially had last post’s honoree — Jack White — in the #2 spot.  Then I started listening to All in Good Time, which led me back to their albums of last decade.  After one listen to Maroon and Everything to Everyone, I knew that the Barenaked Ladies belonged in a higher position.  It should also be noted that while I do believe I made the right choice for the #1 slot, I have been a BnL fan for much longer, and they hold quite an important place in my heart where music is concerned.

That being said, let’s get this party started!

The Barenaked Ladies have distinguished themselves in all four of the categories I’ve established (see above) for this list.  They are a constantly evolving group of songwriter/musicians and performers, not content to rest easy at what worked for them in the past.  Throughout this, the second full decade of their existence, they have been prolific, releasing new material in every year except 2009.  In addition to typical studio albums every three years, this decade has seen the release of a greatest hits collection, a DVD compilation of their music videos, a holiday-themed album, a musical production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (the one release in their catalog I have yet to set eyes on), their first live DVD, and a children’s album with accompanying book.

Although the decade ended with the oft-noted and overly publicized departure of founding member Steven Page, the remaining four members closed out 2009 by recording a series of eighteen songs, fourteen of which would find their way to 2010’s All in Good Time.

In every way that matters, the Barenaked Ladies have been a creative force to reckon with — and pay attention to — throughout this decade, and despite the criticism of naysayers, they have a very promising future in the next.

POST-STUNT EXPECTATIONS

To say that there was a lot riding on Maroon would be an understatement.

After the breakthrough success of 1998’s Stunt (via the chart-topping “One Week”), BnL’s image and career stood to be reconsidered based on what came next.  While Maroon was successful enough to preclude accusations of one-hit-wonder status, their American audience in particular seemed less and less interested in their work as the years went on.  This much is apparent in the charts, each album topping out further down than the previous one.  (As of this writing, this continues to hold true for All in Good Time, which has peaked at 23; in Canada, on the other hand, it has rightfully marked a comeback, hitting #3 which is the highest chart position for a BnL album there since Maroon.)

But numbers are numbers.  There are so many important aspects of modern life which, contrary to the beliefs and attempts of the powers that be, simply cannot be quantified.

Music is certainly one of those.

Maroon is BnL’s most fully-realized, cohesive, balanced album; it is serious, yet entertaining — fast and slow, loud and quiet.  The first half is populated by equally single-worthy rockers like “Falling for the First Time,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Pinch Me,” the latter admittedly seeming like a wanna-be follow-up to “One Week.”  The second half of the album stretches out a bit, unwinding hauntingly gorgeous ballads like “Off the Hook” and “Helicopters.”  I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorites — “Baby Seat,” “Go Home,” and “The Humour of the Situation.”  This is a true five star album.

Although the album and singles performed well, it was apparent that they were all received with a bit less interest than Stunt‘s material had been (or, more accurately, its lead-off single).  I, for one, think that it is no coincidence that this was just about the same time that I began to lose interest in popular radio and music television.

BRILLIANCE IN RELATIVE OBSCURITY

To avoid going into painstaking detail about every track that the Barenaked Ladies have released since 2000, I will begin by saying that there is a vast sea of reasons to be interested in and entertained by this band.  As much as I felt people should have been more receptive to Maroon, I was flabbergasted at the apathy that 2003’s Everything to Everyone.  How an album that could so masterfully run the gamut between silly and serious, all the while being consistently brilliant — both lyrically and instrumentally — is beyond me.  This album is composed of some truly killer tracks: sardonic songs like “Celebrity” and “Second Best,” upbeat rockers like “Testing 1, 2, 3” and “Unfinished,” a love song like “Maybe Katie,” the oddly foreboding “War on Drugs,” and the stereotypical BnL knee-slappers “Another Postcard” and “Shopping.”

A lack of public praise never slowed them down, as 2006 saw the recording of 29 new tracks.  Where the band went wrong, in this writer’s opinion, was in deciding to release one album that year and a second album the following year.  What ended up happening was the most outstanding tracks were split between the two discs and, with a lack of cohesion between the two discs, the Are Me/Are Men project was simply not as good as it could have been.  Even Wikipedians are uncertain how to classify these selections in their catalog — either as the seventh or the seventh and eighth albums of BnL’s career.  Still, these releases saw the unveiling of a new era for the band — one of independence from major labels and of stretching their musical sensibilities.  Kevin Hearn’s contributions demonstrated the potential that he presented not only as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter.  Jim Creeggan’s beautiful vocals also showed significant promise, even if they were only showed off on a silly number.

These three (or four?) albums would be reason alone to consider BnL one of the best bands of the decade.  And yet they didn’t stop there.  In the past ten years, the band has released some amazing work, not the least of which are their holiday album and children’s album.  The holiday album, Barenaked for the Holidays, brilliantly blended Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed songs in one very characteristic collection (think: “Elf’s Lament,” “Green Christmas,” and others).  The latter, Snacktime!, swung far enough to the silly side of the spectrum to be largely ignored by “serious” music critics.  That being said, anyone who takes a moment to listen to the harmonies and instrumentation will realize that Snacktime! is a masterpiece unto itself, two of the best tracks — “Pollywog in a Bog” and “Louis Loon” — being penned by the unusual collaboration of Creeggan & Ed Robertson.  And it saw the lead vocal debut of Tyler Stewart on the rocking “Allergies,” a song that almost makes me feel cool for having season allergies myself.

AN ARREST, A CRASH, A BREAK, A VOW

Far too much has been written about the moments of crisis and tragedy in the personal lives of the Barenaked Ladies these past few years, so I’ll be especially brief here.  If you’ve kept up with music news, you know that Steven Page was arrested on charges of drug possession, Ed Robertson crashed his plane (fortunately with no serious injuries sustained), and Page’s departure was announced in 2009.  All in all, not a wonderful end to the decade.

That being said, the four remaining members — Robertson, Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart — have vowed to continue recording and performing as BnL.  How well is that going?

One listen to All in Good Time is all you’ll need to answer that one on your own.

New Radicals’ “Maybe you’ve been brainwashed too.” – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-03-14 21:09:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

History will record the New Radicals as a one hit wonder.  At best, their legacy will live on in their hit single “You Only Get What You Give,” which nicked the top 40 in the U.S. and reached #5 in the UK.

Not bad for their first single.

Even Gregg Alexander, the New Radicals’ core member, realized what he had found himself in the middle of, touring in support of the song in the late nineties.  He is on record as saying the business of promoting a one-hit wonder — his words — was just not for him.  To a certain degree, I understand this.  After all, anyone who has spent any time reading about musicians knows what happens to the careers of most bands that top out early.  Some recover, but most are left clinging to their fleeting fame.  Even those who continue to put out excellent music often face a dwindling fanbase, as the masses return to the radio for the next big thing.

And yet I am left wondering what Alexander and company would have produced for a follow-up.  New Radicals is an outstanding debut effort that covers a vast amount of ground lyrically and instrumentally, dipping into several genres for inspiration.  Floating amidst it all, I can’t help but notice the echoes of Mick Jagger and some very Beck-esque inflections in Alexander’s leads.  It isn’t often that a band so masterfully blends influence and originality.  And the New Radicals are an original band, there is no question there.  For one thing, they aren’t shy about pushing the envelope lyrically — theirs was a special blend of catchy, infectious rock and roll that even my younger self, frightened of straying too close to vulgarity and blasphemous ideas, couldn’t resist.

This is, after all, an album that starts with a woman muttering, “Make my nipples hard…”

I didn’t even know what that meant when I first heard the album!

Twelve years and what feels like a lifetime away, New Radicals continues to provide a provocative listening experience.

New Radicals' "Maybe you've been brainwashed too." (1998)

New Radicals' "Maybe you've been brainwashed too." (1998)

Despite the unexplained reference to the female anatomy, the first track unfolds into an upbeat rocker that careens between alternative rock and purposeful homage to the Rolling Stones.  Five minutes does seem a bit lengthy for the somewhat repetitive content of “Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough,” but it does lay the groundwork for one of the central themes of the album — disgust directed at greedy institutions.

Next comes the aforementioned single “You Only Get What You Give,” a piano-fueled power pop number that functions as a personal mantra of sorts.  According to Wikipedia, the media was quick to pick up on the celebrity allusions in the bile-spewing rant in the outro, to which Alexander pointed out that they entirely ignored the more significant references to health insurance, the banking system, and Y2K hysteria.

This only confirms his perspectives on the media and corporate America that are expressed across multiple tracks.  (This was further confirmed by the fact that I used to pass shifts at Staples Copy Center singing along to “You Only Get What You Give” when it played once every four hours or so on satellite radio — unedited!  If I needed any confirmation that people, especially groups of people like corporations, don’t listen to lyrics, that was it.)

“I Hope I Didn’t Just Give Away the Ending” builds up until Alexander, sounding like he’s out of breath, cusses and stretches out the final line, “I think I just gave away the ending…”  The energy of this track is infectious; on a couple occasions, it seems like he is referring directly to the listener.

The fourth track, “I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore,” takes the tempo down a notch, but still maintains that same energetic high that started with the opener; the outro here finds Alexander screaming like he’s auditioning for a hair metal band.  Still, the song certainly makes up in emotional resonance what it lacks in subtlety.

As the album stretches out, the instrumental and vocal ranges of the New Radicals become clearer — of course, it doesn’t hurt that Alexander has outstanding musicians like co-guitarist Rusty Anderson (more recently known as Paul McCartney’s guitarist) along for the ride.  “Jehovah Made This Whole Joint For You” is a fantastic track, even if I can neither offer an explanation for the lyrics nor entirely forgive boneheaded lines like “She’s into some real deep shit.”

What is perhaps the greatest shame surrounding the mid-tour breakup of the New Radicals is their abandoned second single, “Someday We’ll Know.”  This should have been an instant classic, a beautiful ballad that stretches the songwriting formula previously established on this album.  Instead, the song was forgotten in the aftermath of the band’s dissolution.  Still, it has been revived by several different acts; the Hall and Oates cover on 2003’s Do It For Love is by far the best.

Other songs approach the mastery of “Someday We’ll Know,” including the somber, foot-tapping “In Need of a Miracle” and the deep track gem “Flowers.”  These are the tracks that I first fell in love with in 1998, and they continue to draw me in over a decade later.

“Gotta Stay High” is a pretty song, a nice inclusion on the release that may not reach the heights of the others, but is strong all the same. 

However, there are some low points on this admittedly imperfect release, foremost among them being “Technicolor Lover.”  This is the sole track that doesn’t involve any of the other band members, and it shows.  “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too” may create a hypnotic bed of vocals and music that works with the theme, but that doesn’t make it a great track.

It all wraps up with the heartbreaking “Crying Like A Church on Monday,” a song that involves a religious symbol in a fitting metaphor that doesn’t involve an attack on the institution.  It is a sensitive, vulnerable closing to an album that bursts at the seams with angst, anger, and disgust.  It is yet another reason why I will continue to wonder what that second New Radicals album may have sounded like…

For now, I’ll just have to cling to the most well-known post-New Radicals song that Gregg Alexander wrote but did not perform — “The Game of Love.”  Yup, the same “The Game of Love” skyrocketed to popularity in the form of a Santana and Michelle Branch duet.

Music Review: Weezer’s “Raditude”

Originally posted 2009-11-15 22:22:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  1 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

I was the first to scoff at early negative reviews of the new Weezer album.  It seemed there was an inordinate number of swipes at the admittedly odd title, Raditude.  After all, I reasoned, Rivers Cuomo hasn’t exactly built his career by being serious.

So, it was with high hopes that I started listening to Raditude.  From the opening track — “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” — it became immediately apparent that the lyrics would be juvenile.

And yet this was never a turn-off.

I had heard this song, the first single, about fifteen or twenty times before the album was even released.  It had been leaked on YouTube, then removed, then reposted by another source, and finally released officially as the single.  And, each time I heard it, I liked it more and more.  This is saying a great deal, considering that the song includes references to watching Titanic and eating meat loaf as key plot points.

The way I see it, there are two types of great Weezer songs:  introverted, introspective ballads and catchy, fun rock/pop gems.

Any serious Weezer fan who will disparage the quality of Cuomo’s lyrics in 2009 needs to think back to such earlier tracks as “No One Else” — “My girl’s got a big mouth, with which she blabbers a lot…” — and “Getchoo” — “Sometimes I push too hard; sometimes you fall and skin your knee…”  And can anyone even begin to transcribe the lyrics to “Hash Pipe”?

I didn’t think so.

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

So, the credibility and entertainment value of “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” being established, the other nine songs on Raditude should be addressed.  In a nutshell, the new album is generally a mixed bag — one part catchy guitar hooks, one part derivative stylistic choices, and two parts juvenile and (to be frank) ridiculous lyrics — that all amounts to a mediocre collection of material.

I’ve always been drawn to Rivers Cuomo’s firm embrace on the simple, pure, and raw emotions that we generally attribute to the innocence (and immaturity) of youth, but this time around, there is little for me to relate to or feel moved by.

“I’m Your Daddy” is about as two dimensional a song as you’ll ever find, stripped of Cuomo’s trademark quirky innocence to reveal an inexperienced Romeo.  It is also a bit creepy to listen to after learning that he began writing it while watching his daughter.

“The Girl Got Hot” is driven by catchy, distortion-drenched guitars, but again the lyrics fall short.  I kept waiting for a moral to the story — I would have settled for something as simple as “don’t judge a book by its cover” — but all I ended up with was the singer’s revelation that, when it comes to Kiki Dee’s friends, “She got hot, and they did not.”  Oh, and the phrase “buyer beware” is potentially problematic, but I won’t even go there.

Then comes the piece de la resistance, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Again, I waited for the subtext that the lyrics must surely contain, considering the minor chords and Cuomo’s diction — “can’t stop” implies addiction.  And again, I was met with lines like “If you was me, honey, you would do it too” and “Screw rehab; I love my addiction.”  Just when I thought it couldn’t get less redeemable, Lil Wayne lays down a chauvinistic, obscenity laden ode to excess.

The remainder of the album is divided between forgettable, inane tracks — like “In the Mall” — and solid, albeit middle-of-the-road songs — like “Put Me Back Together.”  The latter track is one of my favorites from the new album, even though it is difficult to shake the feeling that this would have been a filler track on any earlier Weezer release.

Other tracks like “Let It All Hang Out” and “Love is the Answer” are debatable — on the upside, they do tap into the aforementioned pure, raw emotions that the band’s best material always has, yet there is nothing extraordinary about them.

At the end of the day, I have to reluctantly admit that my opinion is not so divergent from that of Slant reviewer Huw Jones — strictly in his opinion of this album, but NOT his opinion of Weezer’s overall career arc (he’s seriously off there).  Weezer has finally released an album that I can’t endorse — and that I, unfortunately, can’t listen to for very long without feeling disappointed.

“Cornerstone” (Arctic Monkeys Cover)

Originally posted 2009-10-12 21:17:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Arctic Monkeys chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

It is my pleasure to welcome you once again to a brand-new week of all-new acoustic cover song music videos here at the Laptop Sessions.  Following up my version of “Just Breathe” from Pearl Jam’s new 2009 album, I’m happy to present to you a new band to the blog and a new 2009 single.

If you’ve visited our site before, then you know that “New Music” is my niche here at the blog.  I get a great deal of direction in terms of what to learn, record, or write about from the new music that I’m listening to, week by week.  Up until last week, it had been a while since I delved into the new release racks for a session, so I’m attempting to make up for that tonight and later this week.

My video tonight is the mid-album cut “Cornerstone” from the Arctic Monkeys’ 2009 release Humbug.  Previous to hearing this record, I didn’t know all that much about the Monkeys, and frankly, there wasn’t much that I found appealing.  Since their rise to fame via the Internet in 2006, their work has been praised by some — Rolling Stone, for one — as outstanding, and it has also been disparaged as overrated.  In addition, they received a backlash of criticism upon releasing their Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys EP merely three months after their debut album.  Some called it a greedy move, while the band maintained that they wanted to release new material that they would be adding to their live shows.  Now, I’ve certainly never been one to defend EP’s (Ben Folds and the Supersunnyspeedgraphic nonsense, anyone?), and I don’t plan to start here.  Still, one should keep in mind that an album is typically recorded a significant time before its actual release — in this case, the EP was released seven months after the band finished recording their debut album.

Anyway, this album was recommended to me by a former student and friend who has tuned me in to some great material from Beck, Cold War Kids, and Harvey Danger — in other words, bands that I wouldn’t have listened to on my own.  He described it as being more “slow and contemplative instead of just in your face punk music” which, for anyone who knows me, immediately got my attention!

While I rated this album as a “Maybe So,” it really is one of my favorites this year.  It’s the type of album you can listen to again and again without it getting old.  I love their style here: the songs are unique, and yet reminiscent of some of the greatest rock of the sixties, and their lyrics really make the music stand out to me.

Which brings me to “Cornerstone.”

I will never forget driving to school, listening to this song for the first time.  I had been enjoying the album, but this song really made me stop and take notice.  There is this devious tone in Alex Turner’s voice as he sings the story of a man searching for a girl who has left him.  Did she break up with him?  Has she died?  Regardless, he is prowling the dirtiest-sounding dives, flirting and engaging with women of whom he soon makes an odd request.

He asks if it would be acceptable for him to refer to them by the name of his ex-lover.

No big deal.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?  Well, that’s not the case for most of the song.  But you’ll have to listen until the end to find out how he fares.

In other new music news, I’m excited about picking up Bob Dylan’s first ever Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart.  Of course, this is a mixed bag.  After all, contrary to the fact that several holiday albums are coming out tomorrow, I think that it’s far too soon to start listening to Christmas music.  I’ll probably end up listening to it once before I tuck it away for the day after Thanksgiving…  The other question in my mind is whether or not the deluxe edition is worth the extra money.  From what I can tell from the limited descriptions I’ve been able to find online, there are some greeting cards attached in the special edition.  Well, how many?  Do you save them or do you send them?  How many people would truly appreciate a Bob Dylan Christmas card?  Is his face on the cards?  Could be scary to small children or residents of small New Jersey towns…

Well, that’s enough for tonight.  I hope you enjoy my video.  If you like it, you should mark your calendars for October 15th when the official music video for “Cornerstone” is set to be released.  It has also been scheduled to be released as the second single from Humbug about a month after that.

See you next session!