by Fred Mills
Yes, the guys in BNL have gotten their knobs polished quite nicely to date. Somehow we don’t bring up that they burst upon the scene after winning the Canadian equivalent of "Star Search," for chrissakes. (Halloo, Alanis Morissette!) Nor do we call them on their hit "Brian Wilson," despite it being a tepid mishmash of about a dozen ’60s folk-rock tunes, because that would appear unseemly towards St. Brian, who disingenuously covers it in concert. (Poor Paul Westerberg must be gnashing his teeth for settling prematurely on the title "Alex Chilton.")
Madonna-worthy chutzpah of the CD title aside, the tunes tell the tale. "The Old Apartment" actually sounds like Steve Perry, a clichéd collision of arena-rock bombast, earnest dynamics and an overwrought vocal. "One Week" did in fact hit No. 1 in the United States in ’98; if you’ve ever bemoaned white guys periodically trying their hand at rapping and/or Jamaican dancehall toasting you’ll positively blanch at the thought of Canadians getting all wiggity-wiggity. Quirky references to Aquaman, "The X-Files" and, uh, Chinese chicken only underscore the horror. "Be My Yoko Ono" commits the twin sins of being clever (a midsong Yoko impression) and copping a Violent Femmes arrangement. "Shoebox" appeared on the "Friends" soundtrack; need we say more? "Enid" pulls off the estimable feat of transporting Steve Perry to Jimmy Buffet’s faux-island cheeseburger paradise, throwing in some incongruous pedal steel, horns and strings along the way. "It’s Only Me" is one of two new songs recorded for the set so it’s too early to say if it will become a hit; it sounds like Steve Perry if he’d joined the Cars. Throughout these and the remainder of this 19-song collection, BNL relentless pursue a lyrically offbeat muse — macaroni, other foodstuffs, being chums with an "alternative girlfriend," what it feels like for a geek, etc. — but it all seems so obvious in a less-poetic/more-conversational style that "clever" becomes "insipid." These aren’t even good novelty tunes.
There is one lone beacon of musical salvation here. Tellingly, it’s a cover tune. Recorded for a Bruce Cockburn tribute album, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" is rendered delicately via bowed bass, a rippling (but not overblown) piano motif and gentle vocals that remain mostly true to Cockburn’s original version. The song is as inspiring as the rest of the disc is appalling — but that’s what God created CD burners for, one supposes. Don’t stop believing, kids.