52. Stunt

Stunt- Barenaked Ladies (1998)


How: It’s very convenient that the first album on my list happens to be the first on the list I listened to with any consistency. The year was 1998: I was a snotnose who spent a lot of time listening to my parents music shuffling in cars between school and home. If I was alone with my dad, Buena Vista Social Club was on heavy rotation, along with various disco and merengue compilations. If I was with my mother, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall (not yet married) graced the speakers of her 1994 Camry (now my car). If they were both in the car, they seemed to only agree on Van Morrison, and this curious album by a Canadian band called Barenaked Ladies.

I listened to the album off an on for a few years during my childhood, and picked it back up in middle school when learning all the lyrics to “One Week” became a point of pride amongst my peers. I had an eight-year head start on my classmates, and quickly filled in the parts my kindergarten mouth couldn’t possibly handle and became the first one to master one of the most creative pop songs ever crafted.

Why: Stunt became popular in the United States because of “One Week,” a song that balances both guitar pop mastery and lyrical insanity (“gonna get a set of better clubs/gonna find the ones with tiny nubs/just so my irons aren’t always flying off the backswing/gonna get in tune with Sailor Moon/cause that cartoon’s got the boom anime babes/that make me think the wrong thing”). As is legend in this country, the song kicks off the album and was the #1 single for exactly one week in 1998, but it was just enough to give the Ladies a quadruple platinum album.

Stunt rarely deviates beyond basic pop, but the Ladies are really good at basic pop. Hardly a hook or harmony misses, and the songwriting is always silly enough to justify the loose atmosphere is creates. It’s not a very impressive album, but it’s insanely likeable, from the quirky allusions of “It’s All Been Done” to the squeaky-clean drunkards anthem “Alcohol,” there is no song that stands below or above one another once “One Week” finishes.

Beyond the blithe, much from Stunt sticks to the listener, even fifteen years after first listen (you know, hypothetically). Singer Ed Robertson crafts a comprehensive beauty on “Light Up My Room” with only a few chosen sentences (“there’s a shopping cart in the ravine/the foam on the creek is like pop and ice cream/a field full of tires that is always on fire/to light my way home”). Other principle singer/songwriter Steven Page finds a mellow wisdom on “Call and Answer” that points to the album’s overall maturity. While songs like “Who Needs Sleep?” and “Never is Enough” sustain the weirdness the Ladies are known for, it never feels immature, but a controlled spasm of quirk.

The hidden gem on Stunt is the penultimate “Some Fantastic,” a McCartney/Lennon battle between Robertson and Page (who split songwriting duties nearly halfway on the album) that describes all the mostly illegal they are willing to do for their respective ladies (the same girl??) with an enjoyment rarely seen in a pop recording today. It bottles everything for which Stunt became popular: harmony, thrill, familiarity, and a celebration of the odd, and it does it with a beautiful combination of Canadian politeness and American confidence.

Next Week: Voodoo by D’Angelo (2000)



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