Guest Blog: Gordon and beyond, by Mark Gray
BNLUK reader Mark Gray has contributed this fantastic piece about discovering BNL’s music in the Gordon era, and how he remains a fan two decades on.
It’s sometimes easy to forget what the musical landscape was like in the early 1990s.
There wasn’t much to choose between the dull world of Phil Collins and Simply Red, the humourless world of the grunge invasion, and the usual mix of boy bands. With a few honourable exceptions, the musical choices at that time were hardly inspiring. It was into this world that a bunch of young Canadians burst, in the middle of 1992.
Being 18 at the time, and looking for something more from the music industry, the arrival of Barenaked Ladies on the scene was like manna from heaven. And what an arrival. It’s impossible to compare Gordon to anything before or since. Thrusting tunes, glorious sounds, heartfelt emotion, humour, all wrapped up in a parcel unlike anything else around. This was a music group unashamedly funny and intelligent at the same time.
Just a look at the track listing gives any BNL fan a sense of what great album Gordon is. Fan favourites like Hello City, Grade 9, Brian Wilson, Be My Yoko Ono, New Kid (on the Block) and of course If I Had $1,000,000 have stood the test of time, allowing for a few aged cultural references.
The BNL sound was set quickly, and hasn’t really changed all that much in a couple decades. Even without Steven Page around, the harmonies remain poised, the tunes remain memorable, and the energy remains clear. I first heard the album when a friend played it to me. I was hooked straight away. Million Dollars is one of those tunes that is effortlessly timeless. The first time I heard it, it sounded new and yet familiar. Even if the band have had an awkward relationship with the song, Million Dollars remains a real fan favourite, for good reasons. It really is the perfect distillation of BNL as a band, both in sound and energy.
One of the reasons Gordon remains a classic album is that it so accurately reflects the spirit of the band. Yes humorous yes, dare I say it, quirky, but at the same time serious about the music. The bass notes supplied by Jim remain fantastic, Tyler supplies a frantic rhythm, Andy Creegan gives the album fresh and unique under current, and up front Ed strums beautifully and provides fabulous harmonies with Steve. It’s a performance without pretension, unlike so much of the music at the time.
The original cover may have been switched for later re-releases, but to me it remains a classic and again reflects the band- slightly geeky, funny and not taking themselves too seriously, and yet still quality. This was like nothing else around in the music scene in the early 1990s. Of course it is a mistake to assume that everything about the band is a joke. Some of the best moments on Gordon remain poignant and reflective. “Brian Wilson”, “Blame it on Me” and “What a Good Boy” reflect a band with something to say and trying to hit at the heart strings, not just the funny bone, as some who have only a cursory relationship with them might think.
Over the years things may have changed. The line-up may have evolved, the sound may have evolved, the subject matter reflected in the writing may have changed as the context on the music has changed, but Gordon remains firmly in the heart. Many fans may have found other avenues to discovering the band’s sound, be it “One Week”, or the theme to “Big Bang Theory”, for instance, but I was there at the start, and am really glad that I got to hear Gordon as a brand new album, and have been able to appreciate the maturing and developing sound.
In a lifetime, lots of things change. Heck even the sound of BNL has developed and matured over time. And yet its somehow in human nature to hold onto some things, be it supporting a football team, or a particular actor, or a band. The great thing about BNL is that they embody change and continuity at the same time. Despite changes in line up, despite the maturing sound, despite the ever evolving nature of the group, they have still maintained the energy, originality and flair that first caught the ear all those years ago.
Thanks so much to Mark for sending this in! Please feel free to share your own stories and articles here!
Feel free to leave comments below on anything Mark has mentioned.