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With new release, Barenaked Ladies trying to be 'Everything to Everyone'



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Barenaked Ladies (click for larger version)
Ed Robertson, guitarist and singer of the Barenaked Ladies, knows his band has been confusing to some people.

With songs that alternately are humorous and ironic and thoughtful and introspective, some people have had trouble deciding just how seriously to take the hit-making Canadian band.

But the new Barenaked Ladies CD, "Everything to Everyone," contains a song that Robertson believes offers an insight into how the group members themselves view their music.

"I like 'Testing 1,2,3' because it approaches that very serious dilemma that we feel, but it's also a fun song and it's got some just straight-up jokes in it," Robertson said. "That to me, it's kind of the essence of the band. There is a depth there, but it's also about entertainment, and it's fun and it's meant to be enjoyed and it's meant to be pondered."

The crux of "Testing 1,2,3" revolves around one of the most serious issues any songwriter can consider — is his music connecting with listeners and does anyone care what his songs have to say?

The theme seemed even more timely, Robertson said, because songwriting for "Everything to Everyone" happened early this year as the United States' push to go to war with Iraq was causing many musicians to ponder their role in the debate.

As it turned out, the Barenaked Ladies didn't write any songs that deal with global issues like war. But given the way the band frequently has been dismissed as lightweight or even an outright novelty act, the Barenaked Ladies didn't need a debate over the war to make the questions raised by "Testing 1,2,3," a fitting issue to explore.

"It's something that we have struggled with since the very beginning. And I understand it," Robertson said. "We're confusing. Our singles have been songs like 'One Week' and '(If I Had a) Million Dol-lars,' and people see us goofing around, and we're often very ironic and our presentation of ourselves is often very over the top. And so to a degree it's our fault.

"We've also had (more serious and thoughtful) singles like 'Thanks That Was Fun' and 'Pinch Me' and 'What a Good Boy' that maybe people forget or weren't around for or whatever."

The "Everything to Everyone" CD might do as much as any Barenaked Ladies CD to draw attention to the group's more serious side. Besides "Testing 1,2,3," the CD includes "War on Drugs," a song that deals with despair, desperation and death with compassion and sadness.

"Aluminum" has plenty of bite in likening a person's shallowness and deceit to the difference between silver and aluminum.

The sentiment gets summed up with the line: "You can shine all you want/But you're just aluminum."

Musically, the CD is a bit lower key than some of the band's other CDs. There are a few energetic pop tunes — such as "Maybe Katie," "Shopping" and "Upside Down."

But "Everything to Everyone" is more de-fined by songs like "Celebrity" and "Next Time" — both graceful mid-tempo pop songs — the gentle acoustic tune "For You;" and the downbeat ballad "War on Drugs." The music still is plenty appealing, but certainly less buoyant than Barenaked Ladies fans may expect.

And if anything, "Everything to Everyone" may be the best barometer yet of the talents of all five members of the band, which formed in 1988 and debuted in the United States in 1992 with the CD "Gordon."

That's because up to now, virtually all of the band's material had been co-written by Robertson and singer/guitarist Steven Page.

For "Everything to Everyone," though, the other group members — bassist Jim Creeggan, keyboardist Kevin Hearn and drummer Tyler Stewart — were brought fully into the creative process.

The CD was written when all five band members hunkered down in their home base of Toronto for an extended session of writing, rehearsal and demoing.

"It was an amazing process," Robertson said. "It was great to have the input of other writers. I think Steve and I are really competent and confident about writing together, and we've done it now for 15 years. It was nice to throw some new variables into that process, and we ended up, I think, with really strong, really interesting songs."

The Barenaked Ladies play today — Oct. 30 — at the American Theatre, 416 N. 9th St. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $35.

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