Barenaked Ladies – Detour de Force (Album Review)

Barenaked Ladies – Detour de Force (Album Review)

Sometimes a detour forces us to travel that road less traveled, to veer off in a direction that we might have otherwise overlooked or taken for granted. And sometimes these roadblocks merely provide the time necessary to ruminate, to slow down and sniff, well, hopefully not crack. When you’re a rosy Canadian ensemble like Barenaked Ladies, your Detour de Force is likely inspired, not by chemicals, but instead by an inescapable pandemic. Hopefully. Either way, they delivered their latest on July 16, 2021 via Raisin’ Records.

Throughout the past 33 years, Barenaked Ladies (or simply BNL) has seen a million faces and they’ve rocked with ‘em. Cowboys who ride a steel horse, the Toronto quartet has sold 15 million records worldwide thanks to hits such as “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week,” “Pinch Me” and “The Big Bang Theory Theme.” From their 1992 studio debut, Gordon, to 2000’s seminal Maroon and, most recently, 2017’s Fake Nudes, they have consistently released new music to glowing reviews while winning over hearts across the globe with their energetic and spontaneous live performances. If that’s not enough, they’ve had their own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, hosted a cruise (“Ships and Dip”), won eight Juno Awards, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2018.

As the band—the multi-talented Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart, Kevin Hearn, and Jim Creeggan—is quick to point out on their epic 16th full-length, Detour de Force: Wasn’t easy but it turned out alright/Wouldn’t trade it for another. Indeed, it has been a good life for these quirky musicians who are returning with 14 new tracks that, much in thanks to the pandemic, could have very easily taken a different turn.

The album’s infancy began in ‘the time before,’ in early 2020. With a gestation that was doomed (or blessed) by COVID-19, the writing and initial recordings for Detour de Force would ultimately benefit from the group’s forced downtime. So along came a delicate but necessary plot twist as social distancing and quarantine measures gave each of the principal songwriters— Robertson, Hearn, and Creeggan—the time to reflect further on the new material, leading to perhaps their most broad-reaching collection to date.

Detour de Force, therefore, is a patchwork quilt representing their individual and collective influences, music that provides the backbone for personal thoughts and confessions, as well as glances into Barenaked Ladies’ past and present. And it’s one with some extra special guests: familiar faces like original keyboardist Andy Creeggan (Jim’s brother), all-star singer and bassist Fernando Saunders, and, the smallest in stature, MOOG bass pedals borrowed from Rush’s Geddy Lee.

So can Rush-blessed bass pedals make the difference? Well, that we can’t say. What we can easily state, however, is that Barenaked Ladies’ latest is one of their greatest, perfectly blending all eras of their back catalogue while retaining their signature wit and wisdom. It all (back)kicks off with the infectious “Flip,” a solid bop that paves the way into the self-reflective positivity and rainbow-sprinkled goodness of “Good Life,” complete with a superb ‘90s feel. Rounding out the record’s opening trifecta, they add additional layers to their performance to deliver the messy hope of “New Disaster,” shunning the fear-mongering media.

What follows, in some senses, is split between the serious and the humorous, with many of its gems being the tracks that encompass both facets. Take, for example, the witty storytelling of “Bylaw,” something that anyone who has suffered a leaf blower ruining their suburban slumber at 7am will appreciate. Leaning more towards light-hearted than outright comedic, “Big Back Yard” draws from Country influences to paint a picture of a nomad who has grown to truly cherish the stability that brings with it family hangs in that titular outdoor setting.

There’s a simplicity to the collection that allows the Barenaked Ladies to show off their dynamic sonic talents as they paint cozy pictures. Such as the rustic minimalism of “Live Well” that allows the sage wisdom of its lyrical content to remain front and center, the equally Country-fied vibes that dust over “Here Together,” relaxing Smooth Jazz experience “Paul Chambers,” or “God Forbid,” with its confessional quips. They are, of course, careful to balance these moments with tracks like “Flat Earth,” with its phenomenally catchy organ hook, as well as the funky horns that introduce “Roll Out,” a song that would provide the perfect soundtrack for a roller-rink jaunt.

But Barenaked Ladies save the best for last. In their final triptych of tracks (minus the bonus that appears on some versions of the record), they visit “The National Park,” a suitably majestic creation that flows into “Man Made Lake.” A song where metaphor plays a key element, lyrically speaking, it is languid, thoughtful, and inspires a nostalgia for the time when a pond might as well have been the Pacific. Though, ultimately, they opt to shake things up and conclude with an experimental offering, “Internal Dynamo,” a frenetic composition that travels from 1970s Psychedelia to Rage Against the Machine style pacing, all to meet in the Sea of Cortez with some bratty Funk and a scream that would make Axl Rose’s heart flitter.

When all is said and done, and the last notes are still reverberating in your soul, consider that there’s a Norman Rockwell quality to Barenaked Ladies: they tell the stories of everyday people with a respectful wit and candor that makes the suburbanite trying to sleep through construction feel as majestic as a Redwood. Sure, one is Canadian and the other not, and though their mediums are different, the feels they deliver are similar in scope. Which, as far as we’re concerned, makes BNL an international treasure who, even when detouring, still shows up in style. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Detour de Force 5 of 5 stars.

Like the in-depth, diverse coverage of Cryptic Rock? Help us in support to keep the magazine going strong for years to come with a small donation.
Jeannie Blue
[email protected]

Jeannie likes to joke that she is little, yellow, blue, and different. She seemingly popped out of her mother's womb with a pen in her hand and has been writing ever since. Many moons ago - in what feels like a separate lifetime - Jean was co-editor of an online music magazine that afforded her great opportunities to interview and photograph some of her favorite bands/musicians: Tommy Lee, Good Charlotte, Warrant, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust, New Found Glory, Deftones, Poison, VH-1 "Band On the Run" Flickerstick, an endless list of unsigned locals, and so many others. These days, she can usually be found hiking aimlessly through the woods in her favorite Technicolor sneakers with a Nikon in hand and her rescue dog, Molly, who is a bit hare-brained.

No Comments

Post A Comment

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons