Multi-platinum pop group Barenaked Ladies are celebrating their 25th anniversary in grand style: they just released a lyric video for “Boomerang,” the lead single off their new album Grinning Streak (out June 4th on Vanguard Records) and are gearing up for this year’s much-anticipated “Last Summer On Earth Tour.” (See my post about it here.)
Led by “Boomerang,” the songs on Grinning Streak unfold with the blend of immediacy, tunefulness and witty sophistication that made such BNL hits as “Pinch Me, “Brian Wilson,” “If I Had $1,000,000” and the chart-topping “One Week” modern-day classics. “Pop is a form that I love—it can be high-energy and intricate,” says Robertson of the genre the band has championed throughout the last quarter century. “When I think of pop music, I think of the Cars and Squeeze—interesting melodic rock is what I gravitate toward and what I’m always striving for. I want guitar-heavy pop/rock that’s intelligent, evocative and thought-provoking. I want it to be singable and relatable, and I want there to be other layers in there for the people who want to go deeper—because not everybody does. I’ve heard so many times, ‘I love you guys ’cause your songs are just fun and easygoing.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m glad you enjoy them, but there’s a dark underbelly that you haven’t mined.’”
Indeed, there’s much more to the Barenaked Ladies than initially meets the ear. Suck on the candy-coated surfaces of Robertson’s songs long enough and you never know what you’ll encounter in their “emotional centers,” as Robertson puts it.
He wrestled with the songs for the new album over an extended period as he plumbed the depths of his psyche in search of just those emotional centers. Along the way, Robertson experienced periods of stress, though not to the degree he’d endured while writing the material for the band’s previous studio album, 2010’s All in Good Time. That one was their first project following the departure of Steven Page, who’d founded the band with Robertson in 1988, reconfiguring the BNL as a four-piece.
“This is the second record since all of that turmoil,” Robertson notes, “but it’s still a part of what we’re going through and what informs who we are. On the last record, there were some songs that were directly about the band split, but this record is much more about the emotional rebuilding after that process. Looking back on the maelstrom of all that upheaval, I wanted to convey a sense of hope, reconciliation and healing with these songs. ‘Off His Head,’ for example, is about pushing through difficulty. There’s a double chorus at the end that I flipped, because I didn’t want it to end with, ‘Wishing you were dead.’ That’s part of being exasperated and at your wit’s end. But what I like about this song is that it says you just do it. You think it’s hopeless, but there’s a reason you’re pushing through it. The song says you can let all these things ruin you, or you can take it on the chin and stand up again.”
“Boomerang” metaphorically examines the aftermath of a breakup, but on a deeper level it recounts an impassioned interior dialogue. “It’s a really personal song that says, ‘You can be done with me, but I’m not done with you,’” Robertson explains. “For me, it’s about feeling relevant—because, as I started to approach this record, there was a period where I felt like I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know who cared. But then I realized, y’know, I care. I like what I do, I’m a good songwriter and I’m gonna write—I’m gonna express things. So that song is about getting your confidence back—or, as one of my colleagues would say, getting your swagger back.”