Naked and loving it

& & by Alan Sculley & &

Critics are weighing in on Maroon, the sixth major label release from the BARENAKED LADIES (who perform at the Arena Star Theater next Thursday night). And so far, the consensus is that the band members have finally become serious about songwriting.

Like they weren't serious before?

Guitarist/singer Ed Robertson will allow that Maroon may be a bit darker than his group's previous CDs. But as much as the Barenaked Ladies have always been known for the humor in songs like "Be My Yoko Ono" or "If I Had $1,000,000" and the goofiness that frequently erupts during their concerts, Robertson feels there's always been a blatantly serious aspect to the group.

"That side of the band has always been there, but people don't see it," Robertson says. "It's not right on the surface. And a lot of times our shows are pretty zany and the videos are bright and loud and colorful, and that is certainly a big part of who we are. But for the 10 years that we've been recording, we've also been writing more serious and mature songs."

Chances are even the casual listener to Maroon will have a hard time missing the weighty situations and themes that weave their way through the album. The lead single, "Pinch Me," finds the song's character grappling with the boredom in his life, unable to pursue any of the big ambitions he might have as he sleepwalks through his daily existence. Even more ominous is the disc's closing track, "Tonight Is The Night That I Fell Asleep At The Wheel." Not only does the song vividly depict the carnage of a serious auto accident, but it uses this desperate setting as a moment when the driver reflects on how indifferent he feels toward the woman in his life.

As sobering as such songs can be, Robertson thinks the emotional tenor of the tunes he writes with singer Steven Page hasn't changed that much over the years. It's all in the lyrical perspective.

"I don't think the subject matter is any heavier or any darker," he says. "But I think it's more personalized on this record. It hits a little closer to home, where maybe in the past there was more he, she, they. This record is filled with I, me, you, we. And I think this record is a lot less passively observational. It's like, 'This is happening to me. I need to do something about it.' I think that's a positive shift in our writing. And I think it takes a bit of confidence on our part to say okay, I think I'm actually talking about me now."

The more personal tone of Maroon is partly a reflection of the events that have surrounded Robertson, Page and bandmates Jim Creeggan (bass), Tyler Stewart (drums) and Kevin Hearn (keyboards) over the past two years.

On the one hand, the Barenaked Ladies enjoyed a commercial breakthrough in the United States with their 1998 CD, Stunt. It sold more than four million copies and produced their first stateside number one hit single with the song "One Week." But the band also had to deal with the reality that Hearn had been stricken with leukemia. After a two-year battle which included chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, Hearn's cancer is now in remission and he's again working with the band full time.

"It's been a pretty heavy couple of years for us," Robertson says. "The success of Stunt was quite a shakeup for all of us. That incredible rush of excitement and attention was tempered quite drastically with Kevin's illness. So it was quite a bittersweet success."

Hearn, though, demanded that his bandmates carry on with touring (fill-in musicians were hired to play keyboards) while he battled his illness.

"It was excruciating," Robertson says of the absence of Hearn. "But Kevin in no uncertain terms said, 'I need you guys to work. I need it. And I need to work for my health, to get back out there.' It was the thing that kept him going. He wrote some music while he was sick that is just incredible. And he said this music, our music, saved his life. It was the reason he could manage to open his eyes every day."

With Maroon, the Barenaked Ladies -- complete with Hearn on board -- shows no signs of losing the momentum gained with Stunt. It was produced by Don Was, whose high-profile work with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Westerberg has helped make him one of today's most respected producers. It peaked at number five on Billboard's album chart and has since gone platinum. "Pinch Me" became the latest in a string of hit singles for the band.

"Honestly, the success of Stunt gave me a confidence and kind of a relief," Robertson says. "We just made a record, and it was really well accepted. We didn't crusade for the golden chalice and rewrite the formula of the band. We just made the best record we could, and it did well."

In fact, Robertson says Barenaked Ladies operates with little regard to trends or the expectations that surround the band.

"I think the good thing about this band is that the sound is the sound that these five musicians make," he says. "We're not trying to sound like anything, or sound like Barenaked Ladies. It really frees us up making records because whatever we do is us, and it can run the gamut. We believe it, I guess, and celebrate it. It works."

Barenaked Ladies performs at the Arena

with Chantal Kreviazuk opening the show

on Thursday, March 8, at 7:30 pm.

Tickets: $25-$35. Call: 325-SEAT.

Close Shave

They take no guff. They kick arse. They dare you not to love them. Meet the RAZORBABES. An all-fem punk quartet from Seattle with style, grace and charm galore. Um... well, style and charm to be sure. But grace? The jury's still out on that one. But you can be the judge Friday night at Boomerang's when the Razorbabes will be performing a rock and roll meet and greet of epic proportions.

Though they've been together for less than a year, the Razorbabes have become something of a sensation in the Emerald City. Their reputation is built upon the group's adherence to the three F's of rock: Fast, Ferocious and Fabulous. Of course, their incendiary live performances -- highlighted by the antics and in-your-face attitude of lead singer, Majenta -- are a major contributing factor as well. With a shock of dyed hair (do I need to tell you what color?) and tattoos covering a fair amount of her body, she strikes an imposing figure on stage. Backing her up is the tightly wound instrumental squad of Bambi (bass), Dina (guitar and backing vocals) and Julie (drums).

If you think only guys can do punk rock right, the Razorbabes are about to set you straight. Musically, they describe themselves as "Zeke on a bad day with PMS" and further swear that they "give the Dwarves nightmares." Get the picture?

The band is using Friday's Spokane show as sort of a jumping off point to a national tour in which they hope to further impress (or scare the pants off) both their fans and detractors. Look for a full-length debut album to burn up the shelves in your local record store soon.

But in the meantime, brace yourselves for a night of sin, a la the Razorbabes. You'll thank me in the morning. Maybe.

-- Mike Corrigan

The Razorbabes and local band Piss play

at Boomerang's on Friday, March 2, at

9:30 pm. Tickets: $5. Call: 994-7476.

Swing for a Good Cause

There isn't much room at The Met for folks to get up and jitterbug, but that's the only thing keeping the upcoming SWING OUT CONCERT FOR BIG BANDS from being the real thing. Swing bands from EWU, Gonzaga and Whitworth College combine their respective talents on March 8 to raise funds -- and awareness -- for the more than 100 children and adults living with Cystic Fibrosis in the region.

"This is our third annual concert, but it will be the first time we've used a big band concept," says Chris Edison, a member of Caring Friends of Cystic Fibrosis (CFCF), the organization behind Swing Out. "Big bands are a big deal right now, and we thought it would be a lot of fun."

CFCF is an all-volunteer effort that donates 100 percent of its proceeds to supporting people with CF and their families. Surprisingly, they're not raising money to find a cure.

"The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation does a great job of raising money for research for a cure. The Caring Friends of Cystic Fibrosis focuses on quality of life," says Edison, who has had two children with CF. "When you have Cystic Fibrosis, you need lots of machinery. There are therapy tables, ultrasonic nebulizers, respirators. You basically need a Suburban to get around."

The CFCF has set up a clinic where families can go to check out state-of-the-art equipment.

"People can come here and check out machinery free of charge for when they're going on vacation or taking a family trip somewhere, but they don't want to haul all this equipment along," says Edison. "CF really affects families. It's just tough and it really beats you up sometimes. So our focus is on how can we make today better."

& & & lt;i & Swing Out for Cystic Fibrosis is Thursday, March 8, at 7:30 pm at The Met. Suggested donation: $10. Call: 466-9320. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &