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Barenaked honesty part of what endears the Ladies to us

Categories: Music

Barenaked Ladies are looking good. Seriously good. Black suits and ties, hair all groomed, they're staring off into the future on the cover of their new CD, Grinning Streak.

 Grinning Streak shows some serious Ladies. (Warner Music)

Ed Robertson looks a little forlorn, Jim Creeggan hopeful, but all in all, these are "Ladies" all grown up. Colourful shorts and T-shirts are a thing of the past, and BNL, in their 25th year as a band, wants you to take them seriously.

And you probably should.

In the last five years, BNL have managed to survive what would have spelled the demise of many other bands: the departure of the group's frontman and most recognizable figure, Steven Page.

A strange story

Whether Page left the band or was asked to leave depends on which source you trust. One thing is for sure: the events in his life prior to his 2009 departure did not help the matters. In 2008, Page was arrested in Syracuse, New York, for possession of marijuana and cocaine. Two women were in the car with him. His mug shot was splashed across the news. It was a strange story that, frankly, just doesn't happen that often within the echelons of established CanRock acts — could you see Jim Cuddy or Gord Downie in a similar situation?

But, however amicable or acrimonious the split might have been, the remainder of BNL handled the issue of Page leaving head-on. Ed Robertson, the band's other primary songwriter and occasional frontman, jumped into full-on lead singer duties on the band's 2009 release All in Good Time.

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But how the BNL, and Robertson in particular, have handled Page's departure in the media interviews, has been just as interesting to watch. Saying "no comment" and pretending that all is great would have been the go-to strategy for many public figures. But Robertson talked about it — in songs, and in interviews, like this one he did with Entertainment Weekly.

Straight-up confession

Saying he "didn't miss Steven Page, not in a way people could understand" was surprisingly bold of Robertson, almost.... un-Canadian. But it also seemed honest, hinting at, without specifically stating, just how bad things got in Page's last few years with the band.

 Ed Robertson has made the transition to frontman. (Canadian Press)

And with Barenaked Ladies, honesty — in all its brutal, occasionally awkward glory — has been the cornerstone of the band's relationship with its fans. Rather than alienating, I think this blunt approach endeared Robertson to BNL fans. It provided a sense of continuity for the band whose fame was built on songs that talked about love in hilariously honest terms, "She's like a baby, I'm like a cat, when we are happy we both get fat."

In the last few months, Robertson's stature as a major Canadian pop culture figure was further reinforced by another project. He co-wrote a song with ISS Commander Chris Hadfield, an Earth-to-Space collaboration that also served as the song children across Canada learned to perform on this year's Music Monday. There was Robertson, no longer the "other guy" from BNL but a major Canadian songwriter, singing alongside one of the most inspiring Canadian figures in recent history, Chris Hadfield.

Ladies get elegant

And that brings us to Grinning Streak. As you may guess by the title, it's an optimistic-sounding album. But it's also something else. It's elegant — an epithet one would have never thought of to describe the Barenaked sound two decades ago.

Off His Head, a song about a man pushing through emotional and psychological difficulty (one cannot help but wonder if it's about Page, who recently admitted to coping with bipolar disorder) could have ended with the line... "and wishing you were dead."

But Robertson says he decided to add a second chorus, to end the song on a more hopeful note.

Stay classy, Barenaked Ladies. Stay classy.

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Tags: Barenaked Ladies, Grinning Streak, Steven Page

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