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Barenaked Ladies: Stunt: 20th Anniversary Edition Review

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When assessing the 20th anniversary reissue of Stunt, the most successful album in the long career of cult fave Canadian pop-rock band Barenaked Ladies, we should set aside “One Week.” Love it or hate it, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, either back when the song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 or on some algorithmically-generated ‘90s playlist.

Passing “One Week” by is not difficult to do because it’s the first song on Stunt, and thus easily skipped. “It’s All Been Done” is next, and that’s OK, because you’ve only heard it dozens of times, and it’s not a bad song anyway. It’s punchy and jangly, with lots of harmony vocals and lovesickness in the lyrics — a worthy successor to the Gin Blossoms “Hey Jealousy” in the annals of Pretty Darn Good Pop-Rock Songs From The Alternative Era.

“It’s All Been Done” is a Steven Page song, whereas “One Week” is the only song on Stunt written solely by Ed Robertson. The two men co-founded Barenaked Ladies, and they share songwriting duties throughout much of this album, with seven tracks credited to Page/Robertson. The rest of the songs are Page’s, either on his own or co-written with his longtime songwriting partner and Duran Duran/The Lilac Time co-founder Stephen Duffy. And the strongest moments on Stunt are Page and Page/Duffy songs, which pulse with a sense of resignation and melancholy that resonates more deeply than Page and Robertson’s collaborations.

“Call and Answer” is the highlight, a slow, simmering depiction of a tempestuous relationship’s ebbs and flows that showcases Page’s top-shelf voice and ends on a high and hopeful note. It’s truly moving stuff. Elsewhere, “I’ll Be That Girl” and “In the Car” both shimmer bittersweetly, the former in its collision of bright banjo and mournful accordion and the latter where youthful sexual frustration meets a well-crafted pop song. Album-closer “When You Dream,” written for Page’s newborn son, is coolly hypnagogic, but more saccharine than sweet.

Among the Page/Robertson songs, the peaks are “Light Up My Room,” which turns a simple melody and a hydroelectric metaphor into a charming love song, and the bonus track “Long Way Back Home,” a fully formed country-rock tune that’s warm and beautiful and better than at least half of the non-bonus tracks on Stunt. On the other end of the spectrum, the Page/Robertson song “Some Fantastic” is a jumble of sounds and ideas that don’t seem to fit together all that well, and as a result never really lifts off.

Two decades after Stunt made Barenaked Ladies a one-hit wonder here in the States (they maintained a steady level of success in their home country), Rhino is reissuing the album, accompanied by actor (and big fan) Jason Priestly’s 1999 tour documentary Barenaked In America. It’s all a welcome revival, no doubt, for longtime Barenaked Ladies fans. And even for novices, Stunt is a reasonable place to start with a band that’s more than just “One Week.” Just get that index finger poised and ready to skip the first track.

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