Everything to Everyone
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12
Written by John Metzger
Barenaked Ladies has been struggling to escape the novelty act tag since it was propelled into the public purview following the surprising success of its 1992 debut Gordon. With its sometimes silly antics and comedic songs, the group hasnít helped its cause by frequently utilizing this ploy as a means for marketing itself to the lowest common denominator of college and high school students. For those who care to look, thereís always been something a little deeper to the groupís music, or at least some of it. Even its first big hit Brian Wilson, which initially appears irreverent, is actually a rather clever and loving tribute to the genius behind the Beach Boys.
Eleven years and six studio albums later, the Barenaked Ladies is trying, however desperately, to grow up, yet it just canít manage to shed completely its quirky tendencies. Not unlike its previous efforts, Barenaked Ladiesí latest outing Everything to Everyone chugs through its 14 songs with all the ebullient effervescence of bubblegum pop. Its melodies are incessantly infectious, and each track is delivered with the type of happy-go-lucky giddiness that allows the songs to serve as the perfect party soundtrack. Save for the solemn War on Drugs, these are exactly the type of tunes to which anyone can dance after a couple of beers and a few therapeutic hits on the bong. Itís joyful and fun, and it happens to be Barenaked Ladiesí biggest strength.
Listen a little closer, however, and one is apt to find that Everything to Everyone is somewhat of a concept album about the excesses of western civilization. Well, not entirely. Despite the productís packaging and several topical tunes ó Celebrityís critique of pop culture worship; Shoppingís solution to the post-terrorism economic blues; Testing 1,2,3ís examination of the formulaic, nostalgia-oriented music market; Another Postcardís sly look at freedom; and War on Drugsí meditation on the medicated path to mental health ó most of the songs are simple odes to life and love that divert attention away from any sort of singular thematic approach. Even so, Barenaked Ladies has managed to extend the more serious aspects of its songwriting, taking its lyrics even further than it did on Maroon. The problem is that the band seems hellbent on trying to live up to its albumís title, and while that may provide the cohesiveness that pulls the whole collection together, the contradiction of being smart, thoughtful, eccentric, and fun doesnít always mesh quite right, leaving Everything to Everyone to stand as merely a small, but enjoyable step in the right direction.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box