Barenaked seriousness

  • By Alan Sculley / Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, July 22, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Ed Robertson, guitarist and singer of the Barenaked Ladies, knows his band has been confusing to some people.

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

But the Barenaked Ladies CD “Everything to Everyone” contains a song Robertson says offers an insight into how the group members 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” evolves around one of the most serious issues a songwriter can consider: Does the music connect with listeners and does anyone care what the songs have to say? The theme seemed even more timely, Robertson said, because songwriting for “Everything To Everyone” happened early in 2003 as the United States’ push to go to war with Iraq was causing many musicians to ponder their role in the debate over the issue.

“It was a strange time to write a record. It was bizarre,” Robertson said. “We’d get together in our basement and Colin Powell would be in the background on TV presenting the smoking gun to the U.N. It didn’t seem to have that much smoke, that gun actually. … But it was just a strange time, and there were all these polls on TV. ‘Do you care what celebrities think?’

“Celebrities were vilified for speaking out against the war,” he said. “It was just weird. So here we are in our basement in Toronto going ‘OK, do people care what we have to say about anything?’ So we just decided, ‘Well let’s just write what we’re thinking about and see what comes out.’ “

As it turned out, the Barenaked Ladies didn’t write any songs that dealt with global issues. But given the way critics have frequently dismissed the band as lightweight, the Barenaked Ladies didn’t need a debate over war to make the questions raised by “Testing 1, 2, 3” a fitting issue.

“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 Dollars,’ 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.”

The “Everything to Everyone” CD might do as much as any Barenaked Ladies CD to draw attention to the group’s more serious side. In addition to “Testing 1, 2, 3,” the CD includes “War on Drugs,” which 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: “You can shine all you want / But you’re just aluminum.” Even a tune like “Celebrity,” with its cheeky rhymes in the opening verses gives way to far more serious content.

Up to now, virtually all of the band’s material had been co-written by Robertson and singer and 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.

“It was an amazing process,” Robertson said. “It was great to have the input of other writers.”

Barenaked Ladies

And Alanis Morrisette: 7 p.m. Sunday, White River Amphitheatre, Auburn. $21.26-$46.25, 206-628-0888.

Barenaked Ladies

And Alanis Morrisette: 7 p.m. Sunday, White River Amphitheatre, Auburn. $21.26-$46.25, 206-628-0888.

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