Fake Nudes

Barenaked Ladies

Vanguard, 2017

http://bnlmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/20/2017

I have to lead off this review by stating right away that I hate what this album is called. Fake Nudes is a title that hits the exact wrong level of relevance for me. The last thing the Barenaked Ladies need to be is topical, and this title gave me the expectation that the album was going to consist of a bunch of silly parody statements on the 2017 American political landscape. That title did not make me excited to hear this record. Thankfully, my worries were completely unfounded. This album isn’t particularly political or humorous. In fact, if anything it’s the most quiet and tender album the band has ever made. I know that not everyone will be excited to hear an album primarily made up of songs showing the band ageing gracefully, but after their last two albums (which I found to be awkwardly modern and banal), I was starting to worry that they was never going to be able to do that.

Album opener “Canada Dry” signals immediately that this album is moving away from the overly synthesized and slick pop that turned me off the previous couple BNL albums. It’s got a relaxed beat, mostly acoustic instrumentation, and some really lovely harmonies. As an occasionally cynical person, I don’t want to be won over by the hokey Canadian-patriotism lyrics, but as a Canadian I can’t deny it totally gets to me anyway. The low-key delivery is a very pleasant change of pace after the last couple albums, and it's got a heck of an earworm. It would be the perfect song to sing around a Canadian campfire.

A few of Ed Robertson’s contributions to the album sound a bit like attempts at getting modern indie-pop hits, “Looking Up” and “Bringing It Home” being the most notable instances. They've got goofy synth leads, lots of sing-along moments, “woah woah” backing vocals, and stuff like that. Still, there are worse fates, and these songs are all catchy, upbeat, and inoffensive enough that ultimately it doesn't bother me and I can’t help but find my toes-a-tapping.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The best news for me about this album is that Kevin Hearn dominates the band for the first time ever. Hearn has proven himself to be a bit of a hidden weapon for the group ever since he started contributing songs. His tender, frail voice and delicate lyrics can always be relied on to provide a highlight whenever it pops up. When the band became a four-piece in 2009, I was hoping that he would finally get his chance to shine, but his output on their albums didn’t really increase much at the time. Until now! He’s all over this album, with songwriting contributions on half of the tracks, and that’s great to hear. The best of his contributions is “Invisible Fence,” which does touch on the political angle pretty obviously, but coming from Hearn softens the blow quite nicely. It’s got one of the strongest melodies on the album, plus a really strong beat bolstered by some tasty horn parts.

I’d love it if Jim Creeggan got more songs, too. He gets but one track here, the solid but way-too-short “We Took The Night.” It's not much but I’ll take what I can get.

Some of the synths that bogged down their last two records appear in various places here and there, but they tend to be deployed less aggressively and blend into the mix much better than before. Likewise, the overly compressed and processed drums and percussion are still present, but they’re toned down in the mix significantly. I’m not a fan of BNL’s approach to this kind of sound, but they’re getting better at it.

“Bag Of Bones” is a weird one. It swings between goofy scat singing over a clunky saxophone groove, lovely Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, and some actually pretty neat synth parts. It doesn’t really hold together, but it’s certainly an interesting change of pace if nothing else.

Album closer “The Township Of King” is a little dull but plays to both Hearn and Robertson’s biggest strengths: tender balladry for Hearn and excellent acoustic guitar picking in Robertson’s case. It’s not a major standout, but it makes for a very nice way to conclude the record.Fake Nudes isn’t the kind of album that will get you jumping up in excitement. The songs are generally pleasant but aren’t particularly impressive. There are some nice hooks, though nothing exceptional. It focuses primarily on sides of the band’s sound that have been left unexplored for far too long, and it avoids many of the pitfalls that their last two albums fell into. Some might find it underwhelming, but I’m fairly pleased that it’s as laid back and relaxing as it is. In spite of its flaws, this ended up being a mild but fairly pleasant surprise for me. It could still use a better title, though.

Rating: B

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