The Time is Now

Recent Pop Theology contributor and self-proclaimed Bare Naked Ladies addict (seriously, we need to conduct an intervention), Jessica Margrave Schirm, reviews their latest album, All in Good Time, which releases today.

Whether or not you consider yourself a Barenaked Ladies (BNL) fan, chances are you’re more familiar with their music than you might think. If you were in high school or college, like me, during the 90’s or the early part of this decade then it’s likely that the BNL and their hits such as “One Week,” “Pinch Me,” and “If I had $1,000,000” have a home on the soundtrack of your youth.

Despite my familiarity with their hit singles, I didn’t become a BNL fan until after my son was born. As a Christmas present in 2008, my brother gave us Snacktime!, their Juno Award winning children’s album, and I began to realize I had been missing something. I found myself listening to Snacktime! even when my son wasn’t in the car, and I knew I needed to dig a little deeper into the BNL archives to see if there was more to the band than those early hit singles conveyed. Much to my delight, discovering them again for the first time was like coming home.

But just as I began to fall in love with all the songs that didn’t make them their millions, and as soon as I realized that their brilliant, sometimes haunting, sometimes hilarious lyrics and their captivating instrumental diversity stirred up something profound within me, it all started slipping away. Ed Robertson, a founding BNL member, had a near death experience in a plane crash, and Steven Page, the other founding member of the band, left to pursue a solo career after an image-tainting arrest for drug possession.  After more than 20 years together, the future of the Barenaked Ladies seemed bleak, to say the least.

But Ed (guitar/vocals) and the three remaining Ladies–Jim Creeggan (bass/vocals), Tyler Stewart (drums/vocals) and Kevin Hearn (keyboard/guitar/vocals)–decided to revamp the band as a four piece and headed back into the studio in 2009.   In a recent interview with, Ed reflected,

For a while there, it had gotten pretty dark. I think it caused all of us to pull away from the band a bit. When we parted ways with Steve it was a chance to reassess and say, ‘Do we want this? …We’ve been really fortunate… We’ve done the thing that everybody wants to do when they start a band and they’re kids. The dream has come true for us. So what do you do now? Do you try and do it all again? That’s a fairly daunting prospect and is anything short of that a disappointment? …Well, no. You re-examine that and you say this is what I want to do because I enjoy doing it and I write songs as a part of the way I express myself and I entertain people because I love to do that…I always say I do the music for free. I get paid to sleep in hotels and wait around in airports and sleep on tour buses and stuff. The music is free…So we reassessed everything, the four of us, and we said we can’t hope to have the same ride we’ve already had. We have to do it because we want to do it and if success follows, then great.

So, what’s the result of a year’s worth of reflection, writing, soul-searching, recording and promoting?   All in Good Time, available in the US on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010, is the Barenaked Ladies’ 11th album, their first as a four piece, and as all the reviews suggest, it is by far their most stylistically daring, musically diverse and emotionally candid album to date.

What I appreciate most about All in Good Time is that, both lyrically and instrumentally, we are invited as listeners to experience the band working through their individual and collective grief.  From denial to anger…through bargaining and depression…pressing onward to acceptance and then back again, All in Good Time creates the space for us to feel angry and disenchanted, and yet reflective and hopeful; to look honestly at the things that have come undone and to ask why, and how long, and what if; to mourn our own should haves, could haves, and would haves.  All in Good Time demonstrates the Barenaked Ladies’ ability to press on through and to make the most of this ordinary moment.  They’ve learned there’s nothing left to be taken for granted.

With that said, All in Good Time isn’t actually full of doom and gloom. Quite the opposite.  The album is life-giving, spirit-lifting, and empowering.  As is the case with most musical separations, Steven Page is the target of his fair share of scathing lyrics as the band explores his leaving. But when all is said and done, the album isn’t hindered by Page’s absence. In fact, I’d concur with a review in The Globe and Mail that suggests “… the overall sound of All in Good Time is so rich, melodic and powerful you’d almost think BNL had gained members.”

All in Good Time does not disappoint. Ed explains it this way to, “’We haven’t just moved on. […] We went through the f–kin’ wringer and figured out how to do this so it was better. It’s not like just one guy left and we’re just walking out on stage and trying to do it without him; we’re putting a lot of energy into doing something good. We’re proud of it, and it’s great that people are responding to it because we care. That’s why we do it—we f–king care.”

And all I can say is thank you for caring.  All in Good Time proves what BNL fans have known for years–this band is infinitely more talented as vocalists, musicians, and songwriters and more socially engaged than their more popular hits might suggest.  Though he’ll be missed (especially at the live shows) Steven’s leaving creates room on this album, particularly for Kevin and Jim, to step up and show the world that though the Barenaked Ladies have been creating music for more than 20 years, they somehow brilliantly manage to make each album more current, more prolific, and more authentic than the one before.