The Art of Longevity Season 2, Episode 2: Barenaked Ladies

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Is it possible to make your best record 33 years into a career? That’s what may just have happened with Canadian legends Barenaked Ladies and their 2021 release Detour De Force. The album covers most of BNL’s styles (i.e. a long list of genres) and is a masterclass in songwriting. It starts out with three BNL bangers, before settling into something more reflective, but typically varied and never boring.

When I spoke to Ed Robertson for episode 2 of season 2, he himself seemed pleased with the results on Detour De Force and explained how carefully the band had scheduled the record despite the irony of doing that at a time when few listeners have the attention span to listen to entire albums. But with those songs and the order they are in, the band has made another classic alongside their phenomenal debut Gordon (1992) and international ‘claim to fame’ Stunt (1998).

The in-between has been the usual roller-coaster ride (all in all BNL has made 17 albums in not including the early demos, live albums and compilations and occasional side projects). There is just so much, we barely touch on matters such as the departure of Page and the band’s steady successful transition to a four piece. But we do talk about their surprise success in the early 90s (yes, they worked at it in those early years despite what looked like a surprise success in their home country), the early days of signing to Sire Records, and how tough it was to make their sophomore album. The tough times continued through the 90s when things became something of a grind - to the extent that Ed Robertson was telling his manager of doubts about carrying on: “I could have made more money managing a McDonalds”.

Then came the big breakthrough with their song ‘One Week’ (a US Billboard number 1). Although he had written the song and taken the lead vocal (including that famous dexterous rap) Ed thought the idea of the record label to make One Week the lead single for Stunt, to be a joke. But then suddenly it all got very serious. The band’s peak came at a time of change for the record industry though, with Napster emerging as the century changed over and we discuss being experimented on by visionary manager Terry McBride in the post-Napster, digital music industry in which band’s cannot expect to ‘sell’ anything as far as records are concerned.

The band’s chemistry has survived line-up changes (even the departure of co-founder and principal vocalist Stephen Page) and more recently of course, the pandemic live music shutdown. Once BNL returns to real live shows though, expect their dedicated audiences to be chanting along to new numbers like they’ve known them for as long as the classics. One senses that Ed and co will enjoy every minute but not take any of it for granted.

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