Monday, October 18, 2010

Steven Page

Just over two years ago, then-Barenaked Ladies (BNL) co-frontman and founder Steven Page was arrested for possession of cocaine in Syracuse, N.Y. Though Page was cooperative with police, and subsequent legal negotiations led to the charges being reduced, the incident marked the beginning of the end of his tenure with the band. He officially quit the band he helped to form and propel to stardom on February 24, 2009, and turned his musical direction to a solo career. Although he released his first solo album, The Vanity Project, in 2005 while still active in BNL, and produced A Singer Must Die – an album of covers and new arrangements of some of his BNL-era material – today's release of Page One truly marks the full-fledged start of his independent work.

Those familiar with Page's contributions to the much-loved Toronto quintet will surely recognize much of the same sound on the 12-track effort, beginning with the lead-off number, "A New Shore." The song's topic is plainly clear – his journey as a solo artist – as reflected in the opening lyrics, "I'm relinquishing command for something I do not understand / this man's about to turn his whole life upside down." Tying the risks of his solo material to a sailor on an uncertain quest, Page makes his hesitations and motivations obvious in the uptempo number, which any BNL fans comfortable with cuts such as "Call Me Calmly" or "Trust Me" will find familiar. The combination of Page's distinctive and powerful tenor along with his well-honed songwriting talents are no less diminished here than on his recent BNL work, although the bridge part here noticably misses the instrumental prowess of his now-former BNL mates, especially Tyler Stewart's drumming.

Meanwhile, first single "Indecision" is a sunny pop rocker, much in the "Its All Been Done" or "Too Little, Too Late" vein. Featuring clean and brisk guitars matched with catchy harmonies, its a solid, hooky product, but also one that complements his late BNL career offerings on the double album, Barenaked Ladies Are Me(n), such as "Bull in a China Shop" or "Running Out of Ink." It's a safe and smart move for Page, who could tend to drift towards overly somber or sentimental numbers on occasion in his former group.

And yet, Page's best BNL material flirted with dark and threatening subjects wound into structures that highlighted the heart of his emotional range along with the musical character of the band. Page-crafted BNL songs like "Brian Wilson," "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank," "I'll Be That Girl" and "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" explored weighty or even morbid themes while introducing enough humor or clever songwriting to reach a more thoughtful destination. Thankfully the trend continues here on a pair of tracks in "Over Joy" and "Leave Her Alone." The former is more breezy pop, lifting Page's self-diagnosis of depression and shame into something more optimistic via its upbeat tone, while the latter is a brassy, big-band style number, with its horns and rolling piano boosting his thoughts on parental concern.

Much of the material is clearly self-referential, including reflections on his relationship with Christine Benedicto – who was also arrested in connection with the cocaine incident – in numbers like "She's Trying to Save Me," and "The Chorus Girl," the last of which explicitly points to the incident, as Page notes, "there’ll be no waiting limos / No cocaine and discos / I gave that all up for the chorus girl." There are also a couple of ideas that don't work quite as well, in the form of "Entourage" – a less interesting version of his BNL track from their Everything to Everyone record, "Celebrity" – and "If You Love Me," which is just a touch too quirky for Page's style.

Come for: "Indecision"
Stay for: "A New Shore"
You'll be surprised by: "Leave Her Alone"

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