Barenaked Ladies – Call and Answer

“And if you call, I will answer.
And if you fall, I’ll pick you up.
And if you court this disaster…
I’ll point you home.”

Before the internet, music was very much a geographic phenomenon. There have been exploding music scenes – Seattle, Chicago – but as whole, you needed to migrate to New York or Los Angeles to make it big and get ‘signed’ to a major label. Today, many acts cultivate their fan base online. In the late eighties, Canadians Barenaked Ladies did it the old fashioned way. They were from a remote part of North America and began their career by making demos and touring colleges until the major labels came calling. This doesn’t happen overnight and it did take a few years for group front men Steven Page and Ed Robertson to hone their songwriting and performing skills.

Signed to Sire Records by the incomparable Seymour Stein, the group was part of a great indie music tradition with the Ramones and Talking Heads. The label gave the band the backing it needed to release four albums before their breakthrough with 1998’s “Stunt”. Relentless touring helped to secure their Canadian fan base and they began to dominate college radio in much of America as well. Original member Andy Creegan (brother to bassist Jim) left the group amidst their early album releases and was replaced by the incomparable Kevin Hearn on keyboards. “Stunt” would be the first album to feature Hearn, who’s quirky classical touches brought out the best in the band’s sound. The album also brought about a new production team, veterans Susan Rogers, who worked on Prince’s “Purple Rain” and “Sign O The Times”, and David Leonard. The album would yield the band’s biggest hit, ‘One Week’, and catapult them to arena headlining status. To achieve this success, BNL (as they are known) would work and tour for over ten years.

“Stunt” featured many fantastic tracks, with the song ‘Call and Answer’ becoming one of their trademark live features. Written by Steven Page and ex Duran Duran member Steven Duffy, the song brought out the best in Page’s almost operatic voice, as well as Kevin Hearn’s brilliant piano stylings. While most casual listeners would mark BNL as a novelty act, this song harkens more to the band’s core sound. ‘Call and Answer’ is a heartfelt ballad that could become a standard soul ballad and would be at home being sung by any of Motown’s best vocalists.

“Stunt” was a worldwide hit, followed by the equally successful album “Maroon” in 2000. Leaving Sire/Reprise, the band focused on centralizing their efforts on manager Terry McBride’s Nettwerk label. Unfortunately, in 2009 Steven Page left Barenaked Ladies to focus on other projects. The remaining members are releasing a new album in 2010 with a tour to follow. While it is a shame to see such a strong creative force sidelined, they remain one of the few bands to debut in the nineties with enough material to warrant a retrospective look into their catalog of top notch material.

(Note the video…I have no idea who the people are pictured. It is, however, a good quality audio track of the original album version of ‘Call and Answer’.)

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2 responses to “Barenaked Ladies – Call and Answer

  1. I’ve always been a BNL fn and have followed their career since the early days. Good song, but they have way better in their catalogue. The new song is ok, but without Steven Page in the lineup their new tour is going to focus on smaller venues. I think the days of playing large arenas are behind them. But really-” They were from a remote part of North America” ? Toronto is remote? C’mon…

  2. OK…fair enough on the Toronto comment. I just remember hearing about how they trudged through areas like Yukon Territory while touring Canada as openers for other acts and their description of ‘remote’. I should have been more specific with my word choice…Ive been to Toronto a few times, beautiful city. I even saw Kevin Hearn in upstate NY back in 02 (?). I’m sure BNL will be popping up another time or two on the list…any suggestions?

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