By Chris Moore:
RATING: 5 / 5 stars
I’ll start by addressing the controversy surrounding the release of this album.
It’s only fair to clear the air, considering there’s been quite a lot of debate. Although many will claim that it all began recently, I trace this issue back as early as 2006.
The issue I’m referring to, that I’m certain is on everyone’s minds, is the pressing question:
Is All in Good Time the eighth, ninth, or tenth album in the Barenaked Ladies’ not inconsiderable catalog?
(That’s what you thought I meant, right?)
To answer this question, you must revisit BnL’s past three releases: Are Me (2006), Are Men (2007), and Snacktime! (2008). If you’re inclined to count them all as individual studio releases, then this year’s album is their tenth. If you don’t count children’s albums, then it’s the ninth. If you file the remaining two as an Are Me/Are Men double album proper, then we’re down to All in Good Time being the eighth.
You may be wondering, is it worth wasting energy considering such minutiae?
I think not.
However, as we stand at the precipice of a new decade of BnL being one of the most underrated and under-appreciated bands in contemporary rock music, it is worthwhile to take note of just how much they have achieved in recent history.
Believe me: the review may well afford you an enhanced understanding and appreciation of the band’s latest effort.
All in Good Time is an album of balance, an album of desperate searching and of confronting denials of satisfaction. Contrary to stances I’ve read in the few professional reviews that have been written, All in Good Time is not a more serious departure from those fun-lovin, goofy Canadians we “used to know.” Rather, any serious listener (i.e. no one under the employ of Rolling Stone‘s reviews department) would recognize that BnL’s catalog is deeper than “Be My Yoko Ono,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week,” and “Another Postcard.” Particularly in the past ten years, this band has produced some of the most lyrically compelling and instrumentally impressive rock music available.
In many ways, All in Good Time borders on the concept-driven. From the piano-laden lead-off single “You Run Away” to the deceptively upbeat track two “Summertime,” Ed Robertson and company quickly establish this as a post-traumatic album, a collection of songs that express various approaches toward disagreement and separation.
Please don’t misread my interpretation: I, for one, have found this album to have more depth than your average “breakup album.” A comparison to the classics — Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, perhaps — just wouldn’t be right. There is a certain strength of purpose here that other breakup albums simply cannot manage. That may be why we’re drawn to them: as expressions of how it feels to cope with pain, loss, and even utter devastation of a lifestyle.
Instead, what I hear in Robertson, Kevin Hearn, Jim Creeggan, and even Tyler Stewart’s vocals is a certain solidarity we’ve come to expect from BnL. When dealing with the most serious of trauma, their levity is woven in, even if it is more subtle than a song about laughing at funerals or running through a lawn sprinkler with your gym shorts on. Consider Robertson’s line about crashing a party in “The Love We’re In,” to which he adds, “I’ll crash the plane” (referring, of course, to his own plane crash last year).
Additionally, not since their debut with 1992’s Gordon has such a sense of community been apparent in a BnL album. More recently, particularly with those aforementioned past three releases, BnL has increased the number and degree of contributions from the so-called supporting members, namely Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart.
In the wake of Steven Page’s departure (fine! I went and said it!), this is precisely what was needed to push the band to the next level in a career that has been marked by consistent evolution.
Starting the album with such a melancholy track as “You Run Away” — and sending it out as the first single — can only be classified as a bold, honest move on their part. Either that or it indicates an utter lack of concern for marketing (which is well within their discretion, now, as an independent act). Regardless, “You Run Away” builds up to such a degree that it’s a bit jolting to return to the beginning, so much does the second half rock out that you’re liable to forget just how slow the opening was.
“Summertime,” the second track, is framed by a big, beautifully crunchy riff and some vocal ba-da-ba’s on the outro that invoke seventies America. Lyrically, Robertson asks, “How do we make it through the days? How do we not cave in and bottom out?” This is a tone-setter for the album as a whole, and as the choral response indicates, “Soon enough we’ll wake up from such a daze…”
See? Even in an album imbued with such heartache and anger, BnL remains steadfast in their positive outlook.
The third track is one of Hearn’s three contributions, a slow-and-steady lament titled “Another Heartbreak.” This is a song of accepting an inevitable failure, but, as Hearn sings, “it’s still a chance I had to take.” This reminds me of that noble truth expressed by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what” (Chapter 11).
“Four Seconds” is perhaps the quirkiest, and the quickest, BnL song yet — and that’s saying something. When I first heard it, I was somewhat surprised that it had not been chosen as the single, especially considering the characteristic Robertson rapping. It’s the kind of song that makes you happy to have a lyric booklet to refer to as you endeavor to learn the song and keep up.
Next comes a Creeggan track, “On the Lookout.” This is a beautiful track, making full use of Creeggan’s smooth vocals for a fitting lead. Like “Summertime,” there are all manner of interesting effects and instrumentation stretching out just beneath the surface.
“Ordinary” is strung together by Robertson’s intricate picking, but this is a track that clearly features the individual vocal and instrumental contributions of each of the other three members. Like “You Run Away,” this track is an exemplar of the start-out-slow-and-build-up-to-full-speed arrangement.
The muted electric notes at the intro of “I Have Learned” provide an instant contrast with the acoustic “Ordinary.” The result is a murky tone, as though there is something lurking beneath the surface. Turns out that the “something” is a passive aggression. Listen for the notes Robertson (or Hearn?) plays just before the minute and a half mark; if one’s temper being tweaked could be translated to electric guitar, this is what it would sound like.
As “Every Subway Car” rolls out, it becomes clear that this is not an album devoid of love songs. The spray paint metaphor — the narrator’s handy work being brilliantly described as “urban gardens in bloom” — is classic Barenaked Ladies, and the track is catchy as hell.
Just in time, Hearn returns with a change of pace in “Jerome,” a ghost-town ballad through “Bloody Basin Road” to a locale populated by “bar brawlers and drifters, gamblers and gun fighters, ladies of the evening, and copper miners.” This really isn’t a story so much as a song that establishes the proper setting for just about anyone to fill in the plot with their own ghosts. Perhaps that is what Hearn intended: for his listeners to recall the memories that fill their own “jailhouses”…
The Barenaked Ladies have never produced a better angry rock song than “How Long.” Lyrically and vocally, the song peaks at the middle as Robertson nearly screams, “I know you know I know you… so don’t say it!” This song is so good that I can almost forget the “it’s for reals” line entirely… almost.
The band pulls back a notch for “Golden Boy,” but the passive aggressive undertones continue, punctuated by a distorted electric guitar under the vocals. There are so many ways to read into and interpret the lyrics, that I won’t even begin.
“I Saw It” is, no arguments, one of the prettiest, most heartbreaking songs in the BnL canon. In their twenty year career, Jim Creeggan has written a wide range of eccentric songs, but now that he has punched out several more straightforward tunes, it is clear that he can write with the best of his bandmates when the inspiration is there. Of all the sad melodies on this album, “I Saw It” is unsurpassed.
Like ripping a band-aid, I’m just going to say it: “The Love We’re In” sounds, at least lyrically, like a song penned by early 2000’s John Mayer. (Now, don’t get me wrong, as early John Mayer is, in this writer’s opinion, the only John Mayer worth listening to.) To be fair, the comparison ends after the first verse is finished, but I had to note it.
An extremely brief forty-five minutes after the first piano note of “You Run Away,” the album comes in for a final run with “Watching the Northern Lights.” Initially, I didn’t think much of this song, but the more I’ve listened, the more I’ve appreciated Hearn’s subtle genius and the more his lead vocal has crept into my mind and lingered there.
What more is there to say? Instrumentally impressive, vocally brilliant, and lyrically interesting: All in Good Time is yet another Barenaked Ladies album worthy of making the best-of lists. Don’t hold your breath for the “professionals” to acknowledge it, though: go out and listen for yourself.