Friday, August 01, 2008

Barenaked Ladies - Snacktime

I have to give a tip of my hat to a Canadian band who, all things considered, have offered up what has to be one of the best albums of the year. "Snacktime" is for children, but it has enough musical variety, creativity, melodies and harmonies to be a very enjoyable listen for parents as well. Not only that but the lyrics are clever and amusing enough to not be annoying when the kids sing them over and over at home. In fact, in our house I think the adults sing them more than the children.

The Barenaked Ladies (on this album it is pronounced Bah-REN-e-kad Lay-dEE-ess) have never been a favourite band of mine, but I've appreciated them from a distance. With this album I applaud them for giving families something to listen to besides cartoon characters, obvious "stop-drop-and-roll" lessons in song, and nursery rhymes. I don't think this album was a big risk for the band, since children's media is bound to make millions, but I am still impressed and grateful that they took the time to do such a good record. I actually kind of hope they go on tour.

Highlights on this album (for adult listneres at least) include "Pollywog in a Bog" (which sounds like something from the Beatle's "Yellow Submarine" phase, only less ridiculous and a bit more like reggae), "Eraser" (which is an enjoyable musical tribute to a fine school supply), "The Canadian Snack Time Trilogy" (complete with cameos from Gordon Downey, Janine Garafallo, and Sarah McLachlan) and "Here Come the Geese" (which has an epic tranquility to it that bests most anything you'd hear on top40 radio these days). Of the 24 songs, perhaps only the first gets painful to listen to. But can't that be said for most singles?

My kids' favourites include the Alphabet song (which uses "aisle", "bdellium", and "csar" instead of "apple", "ball", and "cat"), "Allergies", "Food Party" (my favourite guest at the party is "Bland"), and "I Don't Like" (which contains some very funny dialogue, including the line: "Give me a plate of salmon and a spinny-ride and I'm a happy man", among others). I don't mind these songs at all, and in fact find them a welcome distraction from all the serious things I tend to think about.

Perhaps most importantly, for a family that has done a lot of driving this summer, this album has not just "killed" time, but filled it with pleasant enjoyment that we could all share, at no one's expense.

So here's three cheers to the Lay-DEE-ess for being willing to be cheesy in places, but only in proper doses, and for mixing this with a whole lot of clever writing and interesting rather than downright boring and painful tunes. We are a family that doesn't really bother with children's music all that much, but thanks to my sister-in-law's gift, this one is right up there in the playlist.

16 comments:

Neil D. said...

When BNL first came on the scene. I must say I was somewhat a fan. But they went with everyone else. When I lost interest in the music scene.
When heard that BNL was getting into the children music scene, I was somewhat impressed.
However, I have mixed feelings when I heard that their guitarist Steven Page is facing cocaine charges. I admit we are all fallen creatures, however if one is going to entertain children, one should make every effort to have a completely clean image.

jon said...

I think you are right, that being in front of children comes with a certain (higher) degree of responsibility. However, if my kids hear of his cocaine use (which i highly doubt) then I will simply talk about how that was an unwise move on his part and why. Then we can also move on to talk about how people can be really good at some things, beautiful people, and yet make mistakes and need help in other areas. No one, no matter how "great" is too big to need help to stay "clean". I can also talk to my kids then about how we can be friends with people but not necessarily follow every move they make, how we have a responsibility for our actions, and how maybe they could pray for his health, etc.

But if I sheltered them completely from anything from anyone who did not not have "a completely clean image" we could never have that discussion, and they also would have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to listen to.

To be fair, I agree with what you are saying, and I'm not sure you are suggesting this album not be listened to.

Something I didn't mention is that there are also a couple lines on this album that I don't think are necessary. A line about evolution and about a oiuja board. These are things I will prefer to instruct my children on further as well. If there was a ton of it, as in it was wallowing in it, I might not recommend the album. But these are passing lines and we are simply not going to be able to avoid living in society without having people reference those things.

If it were glorifying stuff I found bad for kids, or was all about that stuff, that'd be another thing, but i take these things as an opportunity to help my kids be wiser, if it comes up at all (which it has not).

Thanks for your comment, though, Neil. Yes, I'm disappointed and saddened to hear about the cocaine use (although I take all entertainment news with a grain of salt). I'm probably responding to more than you are actually saying, but was thinking about mentioning some of this and did not, so figured I might as well address it now.

Again, a very FUN album folks!

Neil D. said...

No...
I am not suggesting that this album not be listened to.
And I agree that one could sheltered their children to much.
When I was in the docs office yesterday, I read an interested article about how we are bubble wrapping our children today.
And we may cause more harm than good in some ways.
You are a good father Jon. And I am sure you will use any situation as a teaching situation.
And yes, I was just expressing disappointment and sadness about the whole thing.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

Jon! Not the Barenaked Ladies! oh no! Few bands in the history of mainstream rock'n'roll frustrate me as much. Admittedly though, I haven't heard this album. To me all their songs sound like children's music written by unambitious songwriters.

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So you watched Michael Clayton. I thought it was a pretty solid flick too. The conversation Clooney has in the car with his son, after the boy watches the uncle character fall apart, was gorgeous.

I enjoyed The Dark Knight a lot, but it brings me some perverse pleasure to see you bucking the trend of everyone loving that movie SO much.

jon said...

thanks neil. yeah, its unsettling.

matthew: i'd agree with your assessment of the ladies (although i've like some of their songs in the past). which is perhaps exactly why this album works for me. it is them doing what they were born to do.

i thought that scene in clayton was great too, among others. i really wanted to give it 5 stars but am trying to reserve that for the ones that really really get me. i have nothing negative to say about michael clayton though. i may bump it up a star when i watch it again.

as for the dark knight. i am more than happy to givey you that perverse pleasure. as i said elsewhere, my 3 stars are 2 parts heath ledger and 1 part the ferry scene. nothing else was worth much to me.

Tony Tanti said...

Still can't believe your Dark Knight comments in the context of your enjoyment of other inferior action movies like Die Hard 4. Dark Knight was great and had a lot more to offer than your simple summary of it being all about Ledger and the ferry scene. I do agree that it is overhyped though.

Dark Knight was definitely better than the self important, nonsensical, art-for-arts'-sake I'm Not There.

I agree about Michael Clayton though, great character movie.

I don't like the BNL and I have no use for a kids album so I'll likely never listen to it. Too bad about the cocaine, that's a drug for morons.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

I enjoyed Die Hard 4 a lot; almost as much as The Dark Knight. There was nothing "inferior" about it. It had no pretensions, and was almost entirely successful in accomplishing its aim of non-stop entertainment. If Hollywood is going to make mindless action films (and God knows it will never stop), I'd be happier if more of them looked like that. To my own surprise it made my top ten list (#10) in the best year of cinema I've been alive for.

I admired I'm Not There's ambitions, if not always its execution. Heath Ledger was the best thing about that movie too. "Okay, I'll write down the worst thing I can think of, you write down the worst thing you can think of, and then we'll compare." Wonderful.

jon said...

i wasn't sure what to make of i'm not there, but i enjoyed watching it. i felt like it captured dylan without being super obvious.

later when i thought what to rate it, tons of scenes came flooding back to me which i found engaging, inspiring, moving, eye-catching, and worth another viewing, that's for sure.

die hard 4 was a rare sequel that delivered on its hype. dark knight delivered, but i already would rarely give a comic-book action movie anything near 4 stars. so if it had done something super new and different it may have transcended that for me. but it didn't. still gave it what i consider to be my max for that genre though, so maybe that helps . . .

tanti, bet you'd have appreciated this BNL record if we'd had it in the car with the boys on the trip though.

Tony Tanti said...

Just reread my last post, a little overly negative, sorry.

I stand by the spirit of my comments though. Die Hard 4 did deliver, it delivered one of the worst action movies this decade.

I've heard some good comments about I'm Not There from others too, for me it was horrendous and boring and worst of all it was pointless.

You're probably right about BNL.

Tony Tanti said...

matthew, it's interesting that you can admire I'm Not There's ambitions while also admiring Die Hard 4's lack of them. For me those two are a couple of the biggest disapointments in the movie industry in the last couple years.

Also, if I understand you and Jon correctly - when a movie is trying to be one-dimensional you can enjoy it for what it is? There's some inconsistency there I think as most action movies are only trying to be action movies. I can't imagine one could claim Transformers was trying to be anything but entertaining.

Dave McG said...

I find it pretty amusing that a childrens album by the 'BNL' could spark debate.

Snack time = controversy

matthew a. wilkinson -film snob extraordinaire said...

I don't admire Die Hard 4's ambitions. I admire its execution. I think the ambition to purely entertain is fine, but not very interesting -to me. Nevertheless, as a cinephile, I admire good craft, and witnessing a good marriage between substance and form. Die Hard 4 was such a marriage. So sometimes almost in spite of myself, I admire a film like Die Hard 4, or Spiderman 2, or The Incredibles. They aim low -yes indeed, but they hit the target right on the bulls-eye.

I don't think enough action films are content to simply entertain; there are -too often- other purposes driving the story, such as a "moral," or the desire to be subversive, or to be taken seriously, or to be a star vehichle, or to -god forbid- make money. And all these things, if not executed well, ruin scores of action flicks every year. Too many action films are uncertain of their intent: are they trying to be a serious, subversive, intelligent thriller? Or are they trying to simply entertain? This confusion in the idea-stage then bleeds into the film in production and post-production, and you end up with a confused mess.

You're right, I think, that Transformers was only trying to entertain. However, it failed -in my opinion. It wasn't the fun it was supposed to be, and so... it sucked.

I'm Not There, on the other hand -as an auteur film- was clear in its ambitions, complex though they may have been; and I admire what Todd Haynes was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, I think he bit off more than he could chew (it's Bob Dylan!), and failed to deliver what he had envisioned. Nevertheless, my admiration for what he was aiming for allows me to cut him a lot of slack and consider I'm Not There a very noble failure, or rather, a noble mediocrity with some incredible performances.

But there's a danger to cutting that kind of slack, I know; admiration for good intentions sometimes clouds critics' judgements. They're so hungry for something that aims higher than entertaining 14 year old boys, that whenever some film comes along that aims high -they overlook its flaws and look for any excuse they can to label it a masterpiece. Such was the case -I think- with films like Crash, or Juno, or even a "classic" like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? And that is why it is easy to identify a young film snob: they're the one who loves any film that takes itself seriously, and hates any film which has the audacity to want to be fun.

Anyway, that's my rant.

jon said...

that makes sense to me. i don't think my reason for liking die hard 4 was quite so defensible. i like bruce willis in that character and i liked the other die hards a lot and was ready, totally ready, for this action film. i was willing to suspend my dislike for all the ones trying to be die hard and i just thought it was a lot of fun. of course, that scene in the jet was RIDICULOUS . . . but no more ridiculous than anything in any other action film. in this case i was pleased. although it would have been a better film if they hadn't done that stupid stuff, but that's the genre. . .

i didn't like i'm not there because it was ambitious, i liked it because it spoke to me. it felt like an impressionist painting of someone's life. not perfect, but there were so many funny, interesting, or moving scenes, i just felt bombarded with it and really appreciated it. that scene where richard gere is at the town center and that dude with the white painted face was singing --- that scene was MARVELOUS. I was incredibly moved and i wasn't even exactly sure i knew why.

and i will say it helped A LOT to know going in that it was artsy and not a bio-pic, so in this case it was very helpful to have read reviews such as those on watchit movies. in this case i knew better what to expect and it made my experience better.

Tony Tanti said...

Great comments highlights by this nugget of wisdom from matthew: "They're so hungry for something that aims higher than entertaining 14 year old boys, that whenever some film comes along that aims high -they overlook its flaws and look for any excuse they can to label it a masterpiece."

I think you're bang on there, especially in your further comments about those types of people hating any movie with the audacity to be fun.

I think I understand where you're coming from a lot better now, both of you actually. We still disagree but our disagreement is over subjective things like taste and a movie experience. (which is always affected by more than just the movie)

I'm still in shock that two learned and intelligent guys could like such a pile of crap, that being Die Hard 4. Suspending your disbelief is one thing, but that jet scene was as bad as any scene in any action movie ever made. And the villain in Die Hard the 4th was so poorly written and executed, I'm fairly certain I could beat him up.

Oh well, we'll always disagree on some things I guess, for me Transformers was pure fun from start to finish. It was true to the original cartoon I grew up loving and it was well made without pretension.

Clearly our tastes are different though Jon, as you have rated Jesse James (a brilliant movie in my opinion) lower than I'm Not There. I know what you mean about that town centre scene with Gere though, it was moving while totally nonsensical. (That singer was the guy from My Morning Jacket by the way) For me that movie was like watching a bunch of disconnected short films by the most arrogant of teenage film students.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

great responses.

The jet scene was maybe my favourite part of Die Hard 4 actually.

I'm with Tanti on Jesse James.

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http://sinnersbleeders.blogspot.com/

Jim said...

I understand all the comments about Steven Page and his recent arrest. But, I have to disagree. Which of the most famous musicians of all time DIDN'T take drugs? Dylan, Brian Wilson, the Beatles, etc. And these are all respected men. I do agree that it's ironic, though.

As for "Snacktime", it stands as one of my favorite albums of the year. I'm glad they're letting the other band members contribute to the Barenaked Ladies songs on the albums now. My two favorite tracks are from Jim Creegan: "Louis Loon" and "Pollywog in a Bog".

Great article!

~Jim

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