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With 'Grinning Streak,' Barenaked Ladies back to their old, sunny selves

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
David Leyes
Barenaked Ladies

Even though his band, Barenaked Ladies, has been together 25 years, had multiple hit singles, sold some 15 million albums and filled some of the largest venues, frontman Ed Robertson recently told a friend that he thought he'd only now just “made it.” The reason has everything to do with the band's new album, “Grinning Streak.”

“It's the first time that I don't feel insecure about my material and about my songs and that I'm not looking for external validation for them,” Robertson says. Barenaked Ladies performs Oct. 21 at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall.

Formed in 1988, the group enjoyed quick success in its home country of Canada and broke through in the United States with its 1998 album, “Stunt,” which included the hits “One Week” and “It's All Been Done.”

The group continued to enjoy decent success with its next two albums, “Maroon” and “Everything To Everyone,” before the band faced tough times toward the end of the decade.

Its biggest upheaval came in July 2008, with the arrest of singer/guitarist Steven Page (who split songwriting duties with Robertson) on cocaine charges and subsequent departure from the band.

Robertson and his remaining bandmates, bassist Jim Creeggan, keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn and drummer Tyler Stewart, were forced to ask some crucial questions of themselves.

“We were a band in a really weird place for a lot of reasons,” Robertson says. “And I think parting ways with Steve really made us all examine why are we doing this. ‘Why do we want to do this? And what do we need to change to make this better?' ”

Page's departure meant Robertson would now be the group's undisputed frontman and chief songwriter. Robertson rose to the challenge, but the first album by the new edition of Barenaked Ladies, “All In Good Time,” reflected the strains of that period.

Where the Barenaked Ladies had always been known for their upbeat pop sound and sense of humor, “All In Good Time,” while it had its share of good songs, was notably more subdued and introspective than usual.

There are no such mixed feelings about “Grinning Streak.” And the Barenaked Ladies sound more like their sunny old selves.

There are a couple of reflective songs (“Give It Back To You” and “Crawl”) and a few flirtations with mixing synthetic elements with the group's traditional pop sound (especially on “Limits,” which blends the two sonic worlds quite successfully). But the album is mostly defined by songs like “Boomerang,” “Odds Are,” “Gonna Walk” and “Did I Say That Out Loud?” — all prime examples of the group's ability to combine catchy, rocking pop melodies with clever lyrics.

The video for “Odds Are,” which has more than 1.3 million views since its release last week, definitely reflects the band's sense of humor. In it, a TV news program reports on all sorts of cataclysm — giant meteors, alien attack, zombie outbreak — as the news crew/band sings on, “The odds are that we will probably be alright.”

The band is getting its chance to showcase the “Grinning Streak” songs on a fall headlining tour. Robertson says the group's show will reflect the new confidence today's four-man lineup has in its music and its abilities as musicians and entertainers.

“It's the 25th anniversary of the band here, but I think we're not putting a ton of energy into looking backward,” Robertson said. “We'll certainly play the hits throughout the show, but we also want to put a lot of focus on our last couple of records and our newest record, ‘Grinning Streak,' in particular.”

Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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