- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

The Vanity Project

Flagship Recordings

If you’re the lead singer of Barenaked Ladies, a band known as much for its sense of humor as for its sense of tunefulness, you might as well go ahead and call your solo album “The Vanity Project.”

So Steven Page has done it, and, true to ironic form, there’s nothing repellently vain about the project. Mr. Page aims to serve up a pleasant, old-school panoramic pop experience that makes use of modern production techniques, and he mostly succeeds.

With help from collaborator Stephen Duffy (the original Duran Duran bassist and lately of the Lilac Time), who co-produced the album and co-wrote 11 of its 12 songs, Mr. Page continues in the thoughtful, mature vein that BNL began mining on its last release, 2003’s “Everything to Everyone.”

The breezy, harmonica-blowing “Wilted Rose” hears Mr. Page kvetch about life in his native Canada in the run-up to his leaving for America, but it also could be about the deflowering of political innocence. “Revolution is the first to go,” he sings.

The despondently melodic “By the Roadside” is a suicidal take on the old 1950s teenage death ballad, detailing as it does the mysterious vehicular demise of “the most beautiful girl I’ve ever known.”

“So Young So Wrong So Long,” a jangly, Tom Petty-inspired rocker, is another goodbye to youth.

“Vanity” isn’t a complete thumb-sucker. Mr. Page puts the requisite tongue-in-cheek spin on such songs as the sunny Phil Spector-like production “So. Cal,” in which he observes that he’s “too old to lie about my age/too young to die up on the stage.” The Brill Building girly-rocker “Baby Loves the Radio” mocks the blandness and slim song rotations of commercial radio: “I love to hear that song, even though there’s only one on the radio.”

Other highlights include the stealthily rocking first track, “Hit and Run,” and “That’s All, That’s All,” a simple song built around a blippy drum program that culminates in a full-bodied, Wilsonian chorus.

“Vanity” maintains its focus from front to back, but there are moments when its relentlessly agreeable melodies could use a deeper anchor. “Glitterbug” is a cavity-causing confection, while the electronica-laden “These Wasted Words” never outgrows its predictable arrangement.

Mr. Page is never better than his influences (Beatles, Beach Boys, most obviously), but he’s always seemed like the type of guy who would be the first to admit it. With “The Vanity Project,” he proves there’s something organic within his frat-jokester, cutup exterior.

With BNL’s fortunes flagging in recent years — it was bound to happen to a band whose commercial appeal was predicated on junk-cultural irony — he may be needing this kind of outlet again.

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