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Barenaked Ladies - Maroon

The fact that Barenaked Ladies are now "merely" master pop craftsmen, as opposed to being the divinely inspired geniuses they revealed themselves to be on their first two albums, is not really to be lamented. It's basically the way of the world. Sure, not every recording artist makes their most lasting and profound statement with their initial album or two. And for these Canadian Ladies, it's not like albums three, four, and now five are anything less than excellent. It's just that its release definitively confirms the band's maturation in a way that is of course completely understandable, if somewhat bittersweet to witness.

But hey. If the sort of pull-out-all-the-stops musical and pop cultural references in both the words and melodies of the songs on their debut Gordon were still staples of their compositional style, this band would risk categorization as too much of a novelty act. The fact that on that debut album—which doubles as an album about being a kid and about suddenly not being a kid anymore—transcended that potential pitfall cemented their status as a legendary rock and roll group after just that one record. These guys are growing, still. If there's nothing on Maroon that cuts right through to the soul the way a song like "Brian Wilson" always will, there are numerous examples proving that this thinking fan's rock band basically can't make a bad album.

Still cloaking dark existential longings and tragic circumstances in the lyrics with a bright '60s-influenced melodic sense, Steven Page and Ed Robertson—who get this critic's vote for finest lyricists of the last ten years, hands down—have done it again. Marvelously produced by Don Was, Maroon boasts upbeat pop ("Too Little Too Late," "Falling For The First Time"), and midtempo gems ("Helicopters," "Pinch Me") that really do approach the level of greatness this band proved itself capable of when it first hit the scene. If, as is rumored, they now lean heavily on the newer material in concert—which is where their genius has always shined brightest—it's a natural progression for which they can't be faulted. After all, if they were still performing 80 percent of their debut album every time they played a concert eight years later, they'd be the Violent Femmes. Let them go on.