Set on surmounting the novelty band stigma, the Ladies toned down their customary quirkiness a bit on their next two albums--Maroon (2000) and Everything to Everyone (2003). However, Reprise sought to capitalize on more rapid-rhyming singles, releasing "Pinch Me" and "Another Postcard" as lead singles for the albums. "Pinch Me" reached #15 on the Hot 100 and Maroon went platinum, but the downright inane "Another Postcard" received little airplay, and Everything to Everyone sold poorly. Disappointed with Reprise's promotional support (or lack thereof), the band left their long-time label in 2004 to form Desperation Records.
The common critical assessment of the band's new album, Barenaked Ladies Are Me, is that it's BNL's first "mature" album. Although such an assessment shows some critics' relative ignorance of Barenaked Ladies' entire work as well as an apparent forgetfulness of their own work (many writers hailed Maroon and Everything to Everyone as the band's "mature" albums), it's fair to say that a serious tone pervades the album. On songs like the acoustic-driven first single, "Easy," and the buoyant, sing-along-inducing "Bull in a China Shop," long-time songwriting partners Steven Page and Ed Roberston explore the familiar BNL themes of self-doubt and relationship complexities. Elsewhere the duo sharpen the political commentary that emerged on Everything to Everyone. The strongest of the politically-minded tracks (and perhaps the strongest song on the entire album) is "Maybe You're Right," which builds from sparse instrumentation to a resounding brass-filled finale. The album isn't devoid of BNL's trademark humor, though. On "Bank Job," a quirky waltz that could be the premise for a Cohen brothers' film, Robertson sings of a heist stymied by one of the robber's "crisis of conscience" when the bank is full of nuns. And, on "Wind It Up," the album's southern-rock closer, Robertson delivers possibly the funniest line of the album: "I was a baby when I learned to suck/But you have raised it to an art form."
Keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan also contribute some songwriting, with Hearn penning the Queen-esque "Sound of Your Voice" (sung by Page) and "Vanishing," and Creeggan providing "Peterborough and the Kawarthas." Hearn's songwriting contributions, including two other tracks on the deluxe edition, are his most prolific with the band, but his soft, colorless vocals are an acquired taste.
Despite many fans welcoming the band's continuing departure from fallacious ditties (No songs about postcards with chimps? Hallelujah!), some prefer early-era BNL (Gordon to be specific) and will no doubt be disappointed with the scarcity of BNL's customary hyperactivity. Of the thirteen tracks, only a handful could really be considered "peppy." Given that the band had written plenty of uptemo songs during the recording sessions--songs like "Running Out of Ink," "Down to Earth," and "Maybe Not," all of which are available on the deluxe edition of the album--one has to assume BNL consciously pursued a mellow vibe. The album doesn't really hit toe-tapping territory until the third song, "Sound of Your Voice," and two songs--the opening track "Adrift" and "Vanishing--are peaceful to the point of being downright somniferous.
The album could use the jolt a song like "Running Out of Ink" would provide, but the bulk of the material is anything but dull. The music is the sound of five guys who clearly enjoy the new-found freedom of making music on their own terms. BNL's greatest strength has always been their songwriting, and the album shows Page, Robertson, and Co. returning to form after the uneven Everything to Everyone. Barenaked Ladies Are Me not only surpasses its predecessor but also stands among the best work of the band's career.
Nonetheless, one would assume that for an Islamic group to take offense to the quote, they would have to practice their religion peacefully. However, in an internet statement today, an al Qaeda-linked group proclaimed, "We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya . . . We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword."
Further proof that "Middle East peace talks" is the most absurd phrase in the English language.
The pro-instrumental folks generally point to what they feel is the ambiguity of Paul's charge to the Ephesians or the use of instruments in the Old Testament as their support. I recently had a conversation with someone who suggested that the use of instruments in the OT is not support for instrumental worship because we're no longer under the old law. That would certainly be a valid point if the use of instruments was commanded in the Torah, but it's not.
I'm neither pro nor anti-instrumental music. I don't believe there's enough scriptural basis to suggest that the use of instrumental music is sinful and/or forbidden in worship. Having been raised in a rather traditional CoC congregation, I prefer a capella worship, but I believe it's just that--my preference. Because I believe the issue to be a matter of preference, I feel that one's motivation ultimately determines whether instrumental music is right or wrong. If a congregation chooses to employ instrumental worship in order to allow members of the body to utilize their talents in praise to God, then play away. However, if the use of instrumental music would create a schism in a church or drive away droves of people, then I don't see the reason to use instruments in the name of progress. At this point, a pro-instrumentalist may be shouting, "But if it's a matter of preference, then I should be able to do what I want to and other people just need to deal with it or leave!" This is where I believe our American sense of independence taints our faith and conflicts with our call to humility and unity.
Whether or not the use of instruments would be to the detriment of the unity of a church isn't the only matter to consider. Too many churches have adopted instrumental music primarily to appear hip to the culture. There's a distinction between being culturally relevant and culturally driven. One of the largest churches in Austin (not a CoC) airs radio spots promoting their Sunday morning worship as basically a God-friendly rock concert. To reduce our worship to that level not only woefully reduces the significance of the act, it also conveys to non-believers that being a Christian is basically just praying or singing to God occasionally while happily pursuing coolness and our own ambitions. That sort of self-seeking mindset, which pervades Christianity all too much in America, is the antithesis of Christ's call to His people. A church that is seeking to be more culturally relevant will seek ways to minister to their community, to meet the needs of struggling people, not to entertain them.
I suppose my hope is that at some point, CoC's will agree to disagree regarding instrumental worship, for the a capella folks to offer praise but not condemnation, and for the instrumentalists to glorify God but not our culture.
I'm off to the nearest gas station.