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Turning the Page, a revitalized BNL comes together

The Barenaked Ladies rehearse for their upcoming tour. From left, Jim Creeggan, Ed Robertson, Kevin Hearn, Tyler Stewart.

All In Good Time

  • Barenaked Ladies
  • Raisin' Records/EMI

Of this, you may be certain: Every breakup song or dis on the new Barenaked Ladies album will be presumed to contain Steven Page references.

Page, who was co-lead singer/songwriter with Ed Robertson, left the group in February last year, following private differences and a very public drug bust. Although the split is described as "amicable," the history of rock 'n' roll breakups is so full of vituperation (think Lennon versus McCartney, Van Halen versus Hagar, Gallagher versus Gallagher) that rock fans automatically expect a certain amount of nastiness to creep into the mix, or onto the lyrics sheet.

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So forgive us if we assume that Golden Boy, which goes on about how "everyone sees right through you," and I Have Learned, with lyrics such as "I'm done with you," are directed toward a certain former band mate. With lines like that, it's hard not to read between them.

Yet despite the snark, the music on those two songs is surprisingly upbeat. Indeed, the overall sound of All In Good Time is so rich, melodic and powerful you'd almost think BNL had gained members.

Because Page and Robertson dominated the singing and writing, BNL sometimes felt less like a band than a duo with backing musicians. That's no longer the case, as multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan now share the foreground, not only providing songs but singing them as well.

But the biggest difference with the new lineup is that Barenaked Ladies sound more like a band than ever before. Everything seems more integrated, from the way the harmonies wrap around the lead vocals to the subtle shifts in rhythm, instrumental colour and intensity. Sometimes it's played as a slow build, as on the gorgeously wistful You Run Away, and sometimes they seem almost kaleidoscopic, as with the ear-catching range of textures and riffs on Summertime. The jokey bits, such as Robertson's toasting in Four Seconds or Hearn's whimsical ghost-town elegy, Jerome, have more meat to them, while the love songs - particularly Every Subway Car, which roars along like a crosstown express - easily rank with the band's best.

In short, All In Good Time is precisely the sort of revitalization this band needed to make its third decade seem as exciting as its first. In that sense, maybe we have it wrong - could it be that those Page songs sound so upbeat because they're actually thank-you notes?

Barenaked Ladies begin their tour on April 6 in Victoria.

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