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BARENAKED LADIES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Bare Naked Lunch EP [tape] (Can. self-released) 1990
Bare Naked Ladies EP [tape] (Can. self-released) 1991
Gordon (Sire/Reprise) 1992
Maybe You Should Drive (Sire/Reprise) 1994
Born on a Pirate Ship (Reprise) 1996
Shoe Box E.P. EP (Reprise) 1996
Rock Spectacle (Reprise) 1996
Stunt (Reprise) 1999
Maroon (Reprise) 2000
Disc One 1991–2001 (Reprise) 2001
DON'T TALK, DANCE!
Don't Talk, Dance! (Can. WEA) 1995
BROTHERS CREEGGAN
The Brothers Creeggan (Can. Fat Chicken/WEA) 1995

As cute as a baby and as appealing as a loaded diaper, Toronto's Barenaked Ladies — in truth, a bunch of guys whose only discernible fashion statement is their heinous haircuts — rope together the hyperactive lyrical imagination of They Might Be Giants, the overbearing sentimentality of Harry Chapin, the folk-rocky musical conviction of Jimmy Buffett (the group most often sounds like it's hitting the Squeeze sample button on its stylistic synthesizer) and the hip rock sensibilities of a high-school principal to produce a gut course for impressionable liberal arts majors. (You haven't fully loathed a concert crowd until you've seen boxloads of dry Kraft macaroni and cheese gaily thrown onstage in ritual response to a line from Gordon's "If I Had a $1000000.")

The group made a huge initial splash in Canada, where the self-released Bare Naked Ladies — a demo- quality five-song cassette informally known as The Yellow Tape — sold 75,000 copies. All four originals were re-recorded for Gordon; the parody cover of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" was thankfully left behind. (Slightly less accomplished and far more obscure, the prior Bare Naked Lunch tape was sold only at shows. It has some overlap but contains the otherwise unreleased "The Trouble With Tracy" and "Night Photographs.")

Gordon is spoon-fed smartypants pop. The role-playing rock references are strictly grade-school culture history: "Brian Wilson" ("Lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did...just listening and relistening to Smiley Smile...and if you want to find me I'll be out in the sandbox"), "Be My Yoko Ono" ("You can follow me wherever I go"), "New Kid (On the Block)" ("So we may not write the songs we sing but look at Elvis..."), "Box Set" ("So now my fans are crying sellout..."). The music — mild ska, whitebread pop, watery new wave and lightly swinging folk-rock — is equally well-crafted and unchallenging. Getting lots of harmony support from his bandmates, Steven Page sings in a characterless — but exceedingly chipper — Vegas voice, whose intensely sincere side comes in handy for incongruously serious songs about physical abuse in a relationship ("The Flag") and societal pressures on childhood ("What a Good Boy" and the flip but substantial "Grade 9").

Produced by k.d. lang collaborator Ben Mink, Maybe You Should Drive is a more mature and reserved — even somber — album that evinces a narrower stylistic focus in the gentle music (imagine a Squeeze tribute album produced by Natalie Merchant) and avoids topical subjects (except for "Alternative Girlfriend" and "Jane," a crush song — co-written by Stephen Duffy — that uses Juliana [Hatfield] and Evan [Dando] for comparison) in favor of romantic breakup lyrics ("You Will Be Waiting," "Intermittently," "A," "Am I the Only One?"). Cutting back on the humor reduces the quintet's ability to irritate, but the seriousness of Maybe You Should Drive doesn't suit the group any better.

Too bad, since Born on a Pirate Ship is all about romantic doubt, personal collapse and thoughts of self-destruction. "Mental health is overrated," avers Page at one point, and he doesn't appear to be kidding. Other than a few fantasy episodes, the songs describe a thoroughly miserable personality, offering lots of shame and not much humor. Recorded as a quartet (keyboardist Andy Creeggan having opted for school in '95), the music is as glibly upbeat as ever, but the Ladies can't smooth over all this emotional dyspepsia by dancing a merry jig. Neither entertaining nor redemptive (unless there's something in the CD-ROM track that redeems the whole sorry venture), Born on a Pirate Ship is too much like eavesdropping on happy hour at the suicide prevention line to be any fun. (Never mind that the title was evidently chosen for its Butt-headed utility in a hold-your-tongue pronunciation joke.)

Released before the third album, Shoe Box contains the titular song from it (already unveiled on the Friends TV soundtrack LP) in two versions, as well as the previously unreleased "Trust Me," the folky acoustic Yellow Tape version of "If I Had a $1000000" and CD-ROM videos, bio, performance footage, song samples and a load of other stuff.

Don't Talk, Dance!, a side project led by Ladies drummer Tyler Stewart, was a cheesy disco-funk trio with Chris Brown of Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and guitarist/singer Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar (words that evidently mean "Canned Heat" in Canadian). The Brothers Creeggan (originally known as Van Creeggan, ha-ha) is, as billed, a duo of Andy and bassist Jim; their album of jazz-tinged rock includes backup singing on one track ("Places") by Alanis Morissette.

[Ira Robbins]