[ Music ]
[ Rating: 40_of_50_stars ]

It was only a matter of time. The quirky Canadian minds behind "If I Had $1,000,000" -- the runaway college radio hit of 1992 -- have grown up.

  • InMedia Rating: 8/10
  • Single: One Week
  • Top Tracks: Light Up My Room, She's On Time, Call and Answer
  • Skip: Leave, Some Fantastic

  • Release: August 1998
  • Label: Reprise
"One Week," the single off this latest effort, is saturating the airwaves, marking the band's first true breakthrough on American charts. It's a great song, to be sure. Crammed full with trendy pop references to Lee Ann Rimes and Sailor Moon, it seems carefully engineered to penetrate commercial radio and explode all over MTV.

But while "One Week" shares the same playful style that made "Gordon," their debut album, the universal soundtrack of high school life, those who would commend or condemn the Barenaked Ladies solely on its sound are missing out on something wonderful.

"Stunt" is yet another chapter -- and a charming one at that -- in the band's evolution.

Indeed, there's a tangible thread of musical maturation running through the Barenaked Ladies' three earier albums and this latest effort. From the sophomoric antics in "Grade 9" ("Gordon"), through the frustrated cynicism of "Alternative Gilfriend" ("Maybe You Should Drive"), over the unchecked angst of "The Old Apartment" ("Born on a Pirate Ship"), and now to the wit and wisdom of "Never is Enough," you can hear a whole lifetime squeezed into the band's relatively short discography.

True, the Barenaked Ladies' sound had gotten progressively darker and more jaded over the last two albums, as if every one of the lads was fresh out of a dysfunctional relationship. Thus it's a relief to find them lightening up a little again with "Stunt." In addition to "One Week," there are other upbeat gems like "Who Needs Sleep" and "Never Enough" -- the latter seemingly a retort to those who would disparage the musician's lifestyle.

As usual, the band is quite dangerous when they mix their happy-go-lucky style with less-than-cheerful subject matter. "Alcohol" is so catchy you can't help but dance, despite its blunt narrative of self abuse. "Some Fantastic" attempts the same dichotomy, also to some success.

The greatest reward, however, comes to those who don't pigeonhole the Barenaked Ladies as some pseudo-ska birthday party band. Although the group's ballads and angst-ridden songs probably annoy those who keep waiting for another "Gordon," they are often the group's best stuff.

Sadly, none of the tracks on "Stunt" rival the raw, gut-wrenching emotion of the previous album's "Break Your Heart" (perhaps their best song ever). Even so, many still give the soul a good stir. "Call and Answer" exudes a stifled passion that speaks to many a wounded heart, as does "Told You So."

"Light Up My Room," meanwhile, is destined to be a fan favorite, with its colorful, cryptic lyrics and a rich, thoughtful sound that sticks in your head for days. And as proof that the Barenaked Ladies have truly grown up, there's "When You Dream," a touching yet properly clever lullabye sung to a newborn son.

A final note: "Stunt" comes in both a regular and limited edition CD. Go ahead and spend the extra buck or two for the special edition. One of the two bonus tracks -- "She's On Time" -- is so hilarious and addictive it could easily be the next "One Week."

InMedia Rating: 8/10


© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: imr@lightfantastic.org [ PGP ] · Created: 14 April 2000 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008