Steven Page - Page One
2010, Anthem/Zoe/Rounder Records
The past eighteen months have been a real-life roller coaster for Steven Page. The former Barenaked Ladies co-founder, vocalist and songwriter has lived through legal troubles, relationship upheavals and well-publicized schism with his former band mates. Longtime fans of Steven Page and Barenaked Ladies tend to have highly polarized thoughts on the matter, but there's little doubt that Page's voice is one of the most distinctive in pop music over the past two decades. Page has done well for himself in the days since the breakup, reinventing himself as an artist and recapturing his love of songwriting and performing with the newfound freedom and lack of a safety net implicit in being a solo artist. Earlier this year Page released The Art Of Time Project, a collection of classic cover tunes done with classical instrumentation and Page's iconic vocals, but you just knew it wouldn't be long until Page came back with original material. This week Page released his third solo album, Page One, leaving behind some of the cynical darkness that marked his later work with Barenaked Ladies.
Page One opens with “A New Shore”, a bright and airy tune about starting over. Page brings the same pop sensibility that characterizes his previous work but with a more orchestral feel. Page explores hope as a new concept after coming through dark times and finding life and love again in a solid and promising opener. “Indecision” is delicious pop; sounding like the Beatles if they’d broken out two decades later. The song has a classic bachelor theme: the inability to commit or decide. Page takes a brave step in acknowledging his legal issues from 2009 in oblique terms, capturing the larger picture that may have been missed in the press at the time. Page manages to turn lemons into pop lemonade with subtly pointed self-commentary.
“Entourage” takes on the societal obsession with celebrity culture in biting and satiric terms. This is classic page, sounding purely reverent on the surface while ripping and shredding in the seams. It’s a great song. “Marry Me” is a new wave love song with a classic chorus right down to the sha-la-la’s in the backing vocals. Page takes on the conundrum of two individuals who march to their own drummer yet find themselves in love just like everyone else in a wondrous pop arrangement. “All The Young Monogamists” could either be a prologue or epilogue to “Marry Me”. Opening in baroque musical stylings, “All The Young Monogamists” illuminates the love story of two jaded souls who have been around the block and made their mistakes, promising to be true while acknowledging that it’s not in their nature. Page again hits multiple levels in song, expressing the intent to love forever while acknowledging the underlying imperfection of humanity that sends best intentions awry. The arrangement here is nothing short of brilliant.
“She’s Trying To Save Me” gets into the sort of zany darkness seen in Page’s best material with Barenaked Ladies. Page gets a songwriting assist from Stephen Duffy here, and the pop sensibility is through the roof. This one is ripe picking for a soundtrack, as the theme might be very appealing for a motion picture, and the song might be the most radio-ready on the album. Page explores depression and self-destructive tendencies within a relationship in “Over Joy”, telling his beloved to let him go as she’ll be better off. It’s a remarkably mature bit of songwriting; something Page has shown a touch for in the past but perhaps never quite so cogently as here. The melody is memorable and the hook in the chorus will keep you coming back. Page has a great sense of theater as well, completely changing Page One’s tone with the snarky dance tune “If You Love Me”. The theme here is ignoring all of the damage and destruction in an individual or relationship and simply being in a moment. It’s a fun, emotionally dysfunctional tune that’s either extremely tongue-in-cheek or an outward expression of sociopathology in song.
“Leave Her Alone” finds Page intersecting two generations of music and ideals while exploring the clash of an older generation who grew up by getting out of home as soon as they could and contrasting it with today when kids return home after school and stay. The big band jazz opening cedes to rock n roll in the bridge and chorus with a transition that happens so fast and so clean you might not notice it right away. “Leave Her Alone” takes a laissez-fair attitude, a sort of “everyone finds their own path in their own time” concept drenched in a brilliant melody and arrangement. Page vamps like a Vegas pro and gets a big assist from Prince’s NPG horn section. “Queen Of America” feels a bit like an incomplete thought, but manages to convey the importance of breaking out of conformity and being yourself. The song is delivered in 1960’s pop style with a mild techno beat. Page One closes with “The Chorus Girl”, a bit of mellow musical détente about dreams and directions to come in a dreamy pop moment that shows off Page’s more lyric side.
Stephen Page rediscovers his love of making music on Page One. There is fluidity to the songwriting here that will be recognizable to fans of his early work with Barenaked Ladies. Page has grown up both personally and musically over the years, but the sense of musical spontaneity that makes Page great is back. The over-arching sense of darkness in Page’s later BNL work has been tempered here with humor and grand melodicism; the result is more balanced songwriting that is mature, reflective and laced with wit. The voice that makes Steven Page instantly recognizable is still here and still as dynamic and wonderful as ever. Page gets songwriting assists from Stephen Duffy and Craig Northey (The Odds). Musical assists come from Will Owsley, Esthero, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Dorian Crozier (The Rembrandts, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Celine Dion) and others. Page One is a declaration of independence and a brilliant step forward for Steven Page.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Steven Page at http://www.stevenpage.com/, thestevenpages.blogspot.com or www.myspace.com/stevenpagemusic. You can order multiple formats of Page One from http://www.stevenpage.com/. The album is available as a CD or Download from Amazon.com. A digital version is also available from iTunes.