Proclamation, Explanation, Reclamation! or Barenaked Ladies – Silverball

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The first person narrative has long been a device in rock music. So whether it is self proclamation (“Get Back Up”) or explanation (“Say What You Want”) or reclamation (“Piece Of Cake”) the only question to ask:  Is the Barenaked Ladies road still worth travelling?

It sort of depends on where your music tastes start and stop. Silverball leans heavily on the pleasant sounds of the eighties, happily playing in a mix of Huey Lewis & the News, Katrina & the Waves, and the Live Aid era pop that saw the dangerous (Jagger & Bowie) become outrageous as they danced in the streets. Sure, “Get Back Up” is a song that looks at the band as having nothing left to prove, but that doesn’t mean nothing left to say.

In the Barenaked Ladies world growing older doesn’t mean much more than gaining perspective. When Robertson sings “maybe we got much better at looking at the others heart” on “Hold My Hand” it’s a gentle reminder to a partner that not only is everything golden, but that he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s these kinds of personal reflections that give the record a good natured charm.

Silverball is good, really good in fact. It’s well produced, the lyrics are meaningful and you can play it in the background on a Saturday afternoon with a few friends gathered in your backyard as the bbq burns a few hot dogs. Which really, if Silverball has a point, it’s that after all these years it’s just fine to live for the little things.

Shadows Linger Longer Than The Torch Burns… or Violent Femmes – Eponymous

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Some bands can not escape themselves, and a song or album defines them before even they can wrap their head around it. Such was the case for the Violent Femmes and their debut album. It was, and remains, one of the greatest debut records to ever hit the streets, but it also set expectations for the band to fit into a mold they were not prepared to bake in. Even with further albums containing the same spirit thematically of the debut, the idea of musical experimentation at the heart of the band was lost on fans who merely wanted a sequel.

Regardless, Gordon Gano sang songs about how ridiculously awkward teenage life can be in a style that was acoustic punk, improvisational free-form jazz, and early rock ‘n’ roll all wrapped up  together. It was geek anger displayed in a way that made it hip to be socially inept and people responded.

A few years ago I wrote a wish list of albums I “had to have” on vinyl, and the first Violent Femmes was on the top of the list. It wasn’t hard to find, but what has surprised me is the lack of reverence and variety that it has been given. From 1983 until 2001 the album was basically just re-issued “as is” in multiple formats. In 2002, it was given special treatment as a CD that included the basic album, B-Sides and demos, as well as a second CD of live material.

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The following year, Rhino released a re-mastered 180 gram vinyl edition of the album as it first appeared… and… well, that’s it. There is a great sounding 2003 audiophile vinyl and nothing more. That said the sound quality of this edition is top notch, which is essential when you have rocks most amazing xylophone solo ever, and it is very inexpensive to pick up at your local retailer.

However, I’m still looking forward to a day when some double coloured vinyl with gatefold cover and bonus live material gets released; not that it will happen, but damn it would be nice.

Back Again… for the First Time! Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA

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I lived through it the first time, and it’s taken thirty years for it to stop being a bad soundtrack to everything 1984 and 1985. Maybe you had to be there, but Born In The USA was everywhere. Seven hit singles will do that. People who wouldn’t give Bruce the time of day were claiming to be his biggest fan and scrambling to buy tickets as he rolled into town in the summer of ’85. The local news networks went nuts when they thought it would rain on him… which you know it didn’t if you read my George Thorogood post from a couple days back.

In fact, this may have been the first honest to goodness ‘backlash’ record of my teens. An artist you really like puts out something so big, you get sick of it without ever having to buy the record. Sure there were other big records out in the 80’s, but I wasn’t into Michael Jackson or Lionel Richie or… well, a whole lot of the music that was everywhere on every station no matter where you listened.

So it is that thirty years later I’m listening to Born In The USA for the first time, on a turntable, with two speakers, and it sounds great. It sounds like I should have listened to it thirty years ago on a different turntable with a crappy set of speakers, or a cassette that would get worn down.

What strikes me as odd is that it was this big. That people missed the messages of broken dreams and desolation strewn throughout the record. That amongst the repeated chorus of so-called sing along tunes that seemed oh so patriotic were messages of just how screwed up everything was. I’m not sure how anyone could have missed it; all his previous works had these types of stories and people. Still, Born In The USA was for many people where Bruce (the Boss) Springsteen ended. I never stopped being a fan, but I didn’t follow him into those personal albums that followed. Stories of marriage and divorce didn’t really interest me in my early twenties, and the music reflected the change in direction with the E-Street Band no longer in the picture.

In fact by the 90’s, no one even talked about Bruce anymore. He won Grammy Awards, his music was featured in huge films, but amongst the music geeks of the world, Bruce was merely a shadow of the past or worse, a classic rock dinosaur; an artist relegated to being a nostalgia act.

This is where a bit of revisionist history sets in. When first, The Rising (2002) and later The Seeger Sessions (2006) came out, middle aged former hipsters started to take notice again. Springsteen began touring with the E-Street Band and now a few short years later those same people who had wrote Springsteen off were scrambling for tickets and posting pictures of themselves at concerts on Instagram.

It was all very curious to me as a music fan. As Bruce started to drift back towards political commentary through epic storytelling, fans came back – myself included. It’s just that I wasn’t sure how artist denial played in. Personally, I was never embarrassed to be a fan, but there was a time twenty years ago where many people thought it just wasn’t cool to admit it.

Anyway, Record Store Day young and old hipsters alike lined up and bought the early Springsteen records on vinyl, and I bought the one Springsteen record I had avoided since its release. The guy behind the counter, at least twenty years my junior said “you’re really gonna love this,” and as it turns out, I do.