Wednesday, June 6, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Seventeen: If I Had A Million Dollars (Live) by Barenaked Ladies

This is like one of those photos in a horror movie the
charaters take just before everything goes to shit, right?
Hey, look...for the third time it's Scarborough, Ontario's own Barenaked Ladies.

This is a live version of one of the singles from the Ladies' first album, Gordon. It's not the most famous live version, though--that would be from their first live album in 1996, Rock Spectacle--but from Talk To The Hand Live!, a DVD/CD set that served as the last adult album to feature band founder Steve Page. Page did appear on their children's album Snacktime! before a horrific twentieth year resulted in Page's departure and the reformulation of the band as a quartet headed by the band's other founder, Ed Robertson. And, as such, it's an odd, bittersweet little artifact.

In the past, I've written about how Barenaked Ladies have been saddled with this rep as a band so fluffy in its pop-songiness that they pretty much float away on their own lack of musical weight....and I really think this thing is the main reason that rep got started. I mean, listen to it for a second. The lazy melody, the acoustic guitar, the harmonica, the archly twee lyrics all indicate 'hey, look, we're inoffensive! Fun for the whole family! Buy our album! Buy merchandise we tacitly endorse! You know, Like Kraft Dinners!' It's totally devoid of any of the glimmers of melancholy that, to me, makes this band work. And for us New Yorkers, it's got an extra-sour taste to it, as it became the theme song of a particularly risible series of ads for the New York State Lottery some years ago--in a world where The Arcade Fire, Feist and Death Cab For Cutie are being used to coerce you into buying high-end merchandise, there's something really skeevy about using BnL to coerce the really poor into throwing away non-disposable income into the boondoggle of scratch ticket riches.

Looking back at this performance now knowing what was about to happen to the band makes me feel kind of weird. After Page left, the Robertson-led line-up produced one album of original material, All In Good Time, which was actually a pretty good collection of mature pop songs; a second greatest hits compilation, Hits From Yesterday and The Day Before, which duplicated most of the tracks from their last greatest hits album save for two tracks from Everything To Everyone, one track from Barenaked Ladies are Me, one track from All In Good Time and the theme song to that blot on all geek culture, The Big Bang Theory; and Stop Me If You've Heard This Before, a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks. While there are some rumblings of the band providing the score for an upcoming musical based on National Lampoon's Animal House, I am beginning to wonder if they are about to slide into the same oblivion we've seen other bands with this kind of history slide into. My fear is that they will become alt-pop's version of Everclear, producing cover albums and re-recordings of their greatest hits while protesting that yes, they were major players in alternative music of the 90's, just you wait until the history books prove them right.

Of course, maybe there's something else that needs to be admitted--that sometimes a band is the fusion of two or more people, and is not just defined as a corporate/cultural entity. Maybe, by listening to the off-the-cuff banter between the lines of this performance (involving a weird plan to sell corporate sponsorship of a YouTube video of one of the band members gacking up spoiled milk), we get the indication that BnL was the fusion of Steven Page and Ed Robertson together. Splitting Page off may give us a band that capable of some really good pop--I will stand by All In Good Time as an excellent album that pays off on some of those glimmers of melancholy I saw in such singles as 'Call And Answer' and 'Pinch Me' and even as early as 'Brian Wilson'--but not a band as capable of being as fun as Barenaked Ladies was at the height of its power.

Here's a video, taken from 'The Bathroom Sessions' series of YouTube clips with Page and Robertson...

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