The Second Disc

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Greater Hits: Going Barenaked

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In one of our newest features, Greater Hits, we pit two greatest hits compilations by the same artist against each other and see which one comes out on top. Today’s installment: we take one of Canada’s most successful alt-rock bands, compare their compilations and figure out which one’s most worth your time, whether you have $1,000,000 or not.

It’s been just more than one week since the Barenaked Ladies’ Hits from Yesterday & The Day Before (Raisin’ Records/Warner Bros./Rhino R2 528614) hit stores. It’s been a little while since BNL were the darlings of rock radio – arguably, their commercial period began to wane with their exit from Reprise Records and took even more of a hit with founding member/vocalist Steven Page’s exit in 2009.

But when they were among the upper echelon of pop/rock artists – and jokey nature of their singles aside, they were an excellent band – they did a good job of closing off their first decade on a major label with Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001) (Reprise 9 48075-2). The question, of course, is how do these sets, a decade apart, satisfy the new BNL fan?

The answers are after the jump, under there. (Hopefully, I just made you say “underwear.”)

Background: Disc One, humorously referencing the band’s early album cut “Box Set,” in which they run through the contents of their as-yet-unreleased career-spanning box set, was released at the close of a fertile period for the Barenaked Ladies. “One Week,” the chart-topping single from the band’s 1998 effort Stunt, broke them through to U.S. audiences, but in Canada, they had been racking up Top 10 hits since 1992’s “Enid.” The trick for Reprise was to chronicle the band’s three-year run of radio hits in America (including “It’s All Been Done,” “Pinch Me” and “Too Little, Too Late”) while still honoring the band’s early, funny, intensely melodic stuff.

For Hits from Yesterday & The Day Before, there was a different narrative to convey. The band had soldiered on without Page, releasing a record (2010’s All in Good Time) that, as good as it was, wasn’t setting the world on fire. The purpose may have been less about celebrating a successful run than reminding new fans of it.

Track lists: Disc One takes 19 BNL tracks over one very generously packed CD, mixing in two new tracks, two songs from compilations and a few alternate mixes and edits (creating new mixes of major hit “Pinch Me” and early hit “The Old Apartment”). Roughly half of the tracks come from the band’s “One Week” hit period, with the other half drawing back to the early ’90s.

Hits from Yesterday only has 14 tracks, nine of which appear in the exact same fashion as Disc One. The five tracks that don’t appear on Disc One all come from after its release: two Reprise singles (“Another Postcard,” “Testing 1, 2, 3”), two tracks from their independent albums (including “You Run Away” from All in Good Time, which addresses the absence of Page) and a fun, new-to-CD bonus track, an album-length version of the popular theme to the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. What Hits from Yesterday has over its predecessor in terms of track listing is a chronological running order, enabling listeners to track the evolution of the band a little more clearly.

Packaging: What Hits from Yesterday sorely lacks is liner notes. There’s no insert inside the slim, two panel cardboard sleeve, and writing and publishing credits are printed in semi-small font on the inside of the sleeve. Disc One at least has some nice pictures to look at, rather than a carnival-style assortment of fragments of the band’s album covers over the years.

Mastering: This author has always found both a bit fatiguingly loud. One doesn’t really have an advantage over the other, and none of the tracks on Hits from Yesterday appear to be newly remastered.

Final word: Listening to either of these compilations is going to make you happy and sad at the same time. Barenaked Ladies were a really good band, and it’s sad to see them not fully together – the between-song interplay on tracks like “If I Had $1,000,000” is genuinely funny, and shows a band that wasn’t afraid to have fun. (We’ll wait until the inevitable reunion, of course, to see that fun back in action.) Their hooks are phenomenal, too, and bolstered by great production (David Leonard (Toto IV) and Susan Rogers (Prince’s engineer on Sign “O” the Times) helm Stunt, while Don Was produced Maroon (2000)).

But if you’re going to start out with the band, you might as well get more for your money. As good as the songs on Hits from Yesterday but not Disc One are, the band’s early stuff is worth a listen first and foremost, and Disc One has that in spades. It’s the way to go as BNL compilations go…at least, until the band decides to actually release a box set.

Written by Mike Duquette

October 6, 2011 at 18:01

One Response

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  1. They initially announced there would be a 2 CD version of their latest Hits album…but that seems to have been erased from the “internets”. The second disc was supposed to have a bunch of rarities. I would have popped for that one.

    Sadly, I’m done with them unless and until Steven Page comes back into the fold. Their last album without Page was sorely lacking in what Page brought to the table. Page’s last solo album, however, was pretty darn good. So I’ll follow his progress.

    RoyalScam

    October 6, 2011 at 18:58


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