I have been told that my music and vocal style sounds like that of the Barenaked Ladies – in particular Steven Page – many times before. The comparison is admittedly flattering and complimentary.
I can’t say that I’ve always been a Barenaked Ladies fan or that they were ever my primary influence. They’ve just always kind of been there.
Still, I have memories of listening to them on vacation in Malaysia when I was still in my early 10s, and I also remember the big break they had with “One Week” when I was in high school.
A lot of people thought that the band was brand new when they broke into the U.S. market, but truth be told they had spent many years grinding it out as independents. They had released several demo tapes years before they experienced any kind of breakthrough. Looking for a hardworking band? You’ve found one.
Barenaked Ladies – Gordon
Gordon is therefore their first official commercial release, in a matter of speaking. It sold extremely well in Canada, which is not surprising considering how polished and simultaneously quirky it was.
The Ladies cite bands and artists like the B-52s, They Might Be Giants and “Weird Al” Yankovic as influences, and I suppose that is where some of the similarities between them and David Andrew Wiebe becomes more apparent.
“Weird Al” was a staple in my dad’s music collection, and I would later become obsessed with They Might Be Giants on my uncle’s recommendation. I have also had my love affair with New Wave music, and I suppose that’s where the B-52s fit in. Both Yankovic and TMBG have influenced my approach to music in a significant way, though it doesn’t always come out lyrically. Musically speaking, I can definitely draw some similarities (I often play acoustic guitar and use jazz chords; so do the Ladies).
As I sit back and listen to Gordon again, I am amazed at how every song is so recognizable.
Again, it’s not like I wore out any of their CDs at any given point. Somehow, this album has embedded itself into my subconscious without me really being aware of it.
Many of the songs on it are fan favorites, and I am quite partial to “Enid” and “Brian Wilson” myself. In a way, it’s a Greatest Hits album unto itself. It’s what an album experience is supposed to be.
Gordon is serious, smart, sentimental, quirky and funny all at the same time. I think this is due in part to the chord progressions and harmonies. Though there are definitely some frantic and upbeat numbers, there are also some slower, more laid-back songs like “Hello City”, “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” and “What A Good Boy”.
Gordon is also quite daring. I think it goes a lot of places typical perfectionist musicians just wouldn’t go.
Just listen to Page nearly breaking out in laughter on “The King of Bedside Manor”, the weird vocals and tip-of-the-hats to Rush on “Grade 9” or the comedic call-and-response banter on “If I Had $1000000”, and you find a band that was willing to take risks and be a little quirky.
However, they are also backed by serious talent. They can write catchy pop hits and then turn around and write ballads or folk and bluegrass tunes. They can be poignant and heartwarming, and they can be equally lighthearted and fun. They can even pay homage to Rush within the context of their own songs.
My band mate Anna pointed out that the Barenaked Ladies sound like “frustrated jazz musicians”, and nowhere is that more apparent than on this record. Just listen to “Box Set”, and you’ll see what I mean.
I can’t really call myself a frustrated jazz musician, because my roots are overwhelmingly in the blues and classic rock. However, I am easily bored with traditional chords, and I have often use jazz chords and suspended chords in my own music. Again, that’s where I might share some things in common with the Ladies.
In all, this is a really great collection of songs. Though the songs can be enjoyed individually, this is one of those cases where it’s better to experience the whole album rather than just its parts.