(please forgive my awful puns)
I’ve said it before…the moment I became a Barenaked Ladies fan for life was when I went with my ex to see the band at Jones Beach in 2001. The entire show was good, but what impressed me the most was that singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Page had a hell of a set of pipes. By the end of the show, I was wondering why this guy wasn’t on Broadway or performing with the opera. Although I don’t know how kindly an opera house would’ve taken to his performing “Bootylicious” while rubbing Tyler Stewart’s ample hindquarters.
Flash forward ten years: Page has left Barenaked Ladies under a cloud of mystery and suspicion. The remainder of the band decided to soldier on without him, releasing “All in Good Time” earlier this year. While the album was okay, there definitely seemed to be an element missing. I nervously awaited Page’s official solo debut and wondered if this was gonna be one of those cases in which the whole greatly outweighs the sum of it’s parts.
Surprise, y’all!! “Page One” is the best thing released by any of the Ladies collectively or individually since 2000’s “Maroon”. Page’s sense of wit is still very much intact, and “Page One” has a somewhat experimental vibe, as if leaving the band freed Steven up to make music completely on his own terms (which, I suppose he did…). Of course, that voice is as strong as it ever was, and all of these factors add up to an album that’s much better than I expected.
Much like BNL began “All in Good Time” with “You Run Away”, Page begins “Page One” with “A New Shore”, a song that seems to directly addresses the split. The lyrics “before you watch me drown/I’m relinquishing command for something I don’t understand” can’t possibly be about anything or anyone else, right?
As far as the rest of the album, Page darts effortlessly from one style to the next, whether it’s the hooky pop/rock he’s best known for (like on the ear candy-ish first single “Indecision” and “Marry Me”, which sounds like Spector’s Wall of Sound meets The Beach Boys meets The Knack) or the wittily lyrical “Entourage” (if anything, this album proves that Page was the group’s best lyricist by far). The sweet “Overjoy” (one of several songs co-written with longtime collaborator Stephen Duffy) has a jangly country vibe, while “If You Love Me” (my personal favorite track) goes for Eighties style pop-dance goodness. He even goes Vegas for a spell, giving fellow Canuck Michael Buble a run for his money on the horn-spiked “Leave Her Alone”. Page rounded up quite the guest lineup for this release, as well. Contributors include the late Will Owsley, ambient/pop chanteuse Esthero, Prince’s former horn section (aptly titled The Hornheadz), and occasional Wet Sprocket Glen Phillips. However, despite the impressive array of cameos, Page deserves the overwhelming majority of the credit for how good “Page One” turns out to be.
While I’d imagine neither Steven nor the rest of his former band is looking at “Page One” vs. “All in Good Time” as a competition, it doesn’t mean that I can’t view it competitively, right? This one isn’t even close, folks-Page easily came up with the better album. “Page One” is an incredibly well-written, extremely well-sung (I’d bust a capillary if I tried to hit some of the notes he does) album that bodes well for Page’s future as a successful solo artist.