Silverball

Barenaked Ladies

Vanguard, 2015

http://bnlmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/25/2015

Have you heard Barenaked Ladies’ 2013 album Grinning Streak? If so, congratulations! You have also heard Silverball. The band's commitment to only the most faceless of pop rock is maintained here. The Barenaked Ladies, formerly one of the most fun-loving bands to emerge from the ‘90s, has been crunched into a slick, soulless product feeding on the goodwill of those who remember their older work with enough fondness to give them a permanent pass when it comes to cranking out new stuff. Much like the pinball on the cover, Silverball is polished completely free of any grit or edge. The music is loud, shiny, and devoid of any substance whatsoever.

Opener “Get Back Up” is a perfect example of what you're getting here. The verses are nothing to speak of; it's got a superficially catchy chorus that is bouncy in a pleasant but robotic way, yet it will slip out of your mind as soon as you hear it. There are a couple odd little piano flourishes thrown in near the end, but that's about as adventurous as it gets. There is no staying power here. The other tracks repeat the formula sometimes for the better (“Piece Of Cake”), and sometimes for the worse (“Toe To Toe”), but the difference between the two is hardly significant.

Lyrics used to be one of the things you could always count on from the band, but they've long since devolved into empty clichés and predicable rhymes with no purpose other than getting to the chorus as quickly as possible. They read like generic filler lines that were never replaced. “It was a piece of cake, but making cake's not easy.” That's seriously the chorus you're going with, guys? When the lyrics do try, we either get dull metaphors (“Duct Tape Heart”) or cringe-worthy lines like “Not the second coming of Muhammad Ali / But can I get a “woot” for the boxing imagery?” Ick.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Three albums into the band's tenure as a four-piece, it's become apparent that their chief problem isn't the absence of a certain co-founding member, but the utter dominance of the band's other co-founder. Ed Robertson has always played a huge part in the band, but since their lineup change, he has completely dominated their music in a way that doesn't do them any favors whatsoever. While he's more than proven his songwriting talent many times in the past, the evidence of that talent isn't anywhere to be seen here. His songs have settled into rote repetition of the same middle-of-the-road pop rock formula. If you're entrusting 80% of your band's songs to the worst songwriter in the band, it shouldn't come as a surprise when you end up with a bad album. Are the other guys under the illusion that he's still cranking out tunes at the level he was a decade ago? Does he control the band to such an extent that he alone chooses all the material that goes on the record? The answers to those questions are beyond me.

Now, I can't fully place the blame on him. One thing that this album has in common with its equally lame predecessor is producer Gavin Brown. So I suspect that he deserves much of the blame for the loud but lifeless sound that makes this record such a drag to listen to. But at least if the songs were good, the production might not have bothered me so much. Barenaked Ladies used to have a flair for putting a little more groove into their rhythm parts than the average band of their ilk. Not anymore! Brown's production renders their rhythms rigid and mechanical. The instrumental backing tracks are just walls of mush playing the chords, with only the occasional lead part (usually a piano or synth) ever standing out.

Thankfully, the album isn't a complete loss. The other songwriters in the band come to the rescue with a handful of nice tunes. Kevin Hearn's joyous “Passcode” drops the band right in Paul McCartney land. It even includes some Beatles references (is that the banging of Maxwell's silver hammer that I hear?), and it has more interesting instrumental interplay than any other song on the album. His other contribution, “Tired Of Fighting With You,” isn't as notable. But it conveys its tired lyrics quite nicely amongst the hazy lackadaisical music, and Hearn's weary vocals make for a perfect fit. Jim Creeggan only has one song, but it's a good one, too. “Narrow Streets” largely loses the robotic feel that mars so much of this record in favor of a straightforward power-pop sound, and it's got a memorable tune without being too cloying and sing-songy about it.

Since the other band members get a larger showcase here than they did on Grinning Streak, Silverball is pretty much the better album by default, but it's not like you'll miss all that much by skipping it. 2010's All In Good Time pointed towards some nice possibilities for the band's future as a four-piece, but since then, they've dropped two near-identically tepid albums in a row. Barenaked Ladies are overdue for a major shakeup in their status quo, but I'm beginning to get the impression that that shakeup might never come.

Rating: C-

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