April 16, 2014

Oh, Canada...

I like Canada. It's a country that has a lot of great things to offer, such as hockey, William Shatner, free health care, the Kids in the Hall and poutine. (And if you haven't tried poutine, you should probably take a good hard look at the life decisions that have led you to miss out on such a wonderful concoction.)

If this doesn't make your mouth water and your arteries scream in terror,
you are no son of mine.
I'm sure there's other great stuff there, but really, once you have a plate of poutine put in front of you, you enter a state of contentedness that, if a group of Canadians politely burst through your door and set you on fire, taking a moment to apologize for the inconvenience, you would still think they were pretty decent folks who sometimes talk a little funny.

I also like music. You see, I'm a musician. Liking music sort of comes with the territory. And living as close as I do to the U.S.-Canada border, I hear a lot of music from Canadian bands on the radio stations in Sarnia. In particular, I like to listen to K106.3, which plays a variety of rock music, including numerous Canadian acts, such as Big Sugar, the Tea Party and 54-40.

That's right, it wasn't Hootie. Or the accursed Blowfish. It was a Canadian dude named Neil Osborne. A few other songs from that band you might know are Baby Ran and One Gun. If they don't sound familiar, look them up. I'd be willing to bet you recognize at least one of them.

Anyway, being an outside observer, I've noticed some consistency in the ratio of good to not-so-good bands and musicians coming out of Canada, and although I'm not familiar with every band the Great White North has spawned, I know enough to see that, for every really good Canadian band/musician, there is an equal but opposite terrible band/musician. Allow me to offer a few examples.

(Author's Note: I realize some of you out there might disagree with me about whether this band is good or that band is bad, I should point out that I am a musician, so I know a thing or two about music. Also, it's my blog. If you disagree, feel free to comment, or, better still, go start your own blog and dedicate it to pointing out all the things on the internet that you disagree with. People actually get paid to do that, so you never know.)

Let's go old school first.

The Good: Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Everyone knows Bachman-Turner Overdrive, or BTO, as their fans call them. If the name isn't familiar, they will definitely recognize this song, "Takin' Care of Business", which I think is federally mandated to be used in every single movie ever that requires the characters to clean up an old building or construct something in order to raise money for, I don't know, a children's orphanage or some damn thing:

Catchy, isn't it? You may also recognize the song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet". I'm not linking it here, though, because, frankly, I don't need another brain worm today, now that I have that one stuck in my head. So...

The Bad: The Guess Who

Before finding the hook that would launch a thousand montages, Randy Bachman was a member of another band that felt the need to tell the listening public that women from the U.S. are, in fact, stalker-y skanks.

Now, I'm sure that they weren't saying all American women are dangerous psychopaths. For all I know, they weren't even trying to expose the mental illness of even one woman. It was probably some sort of veiled reference to the Vietnam war or some silly thing like that. (Hence, the line "I don't need your war machines.")

But when I listen to the lyrics, all I can picture in my head is a terrified Randy Bachman hiding behind his sofa and weeping while his doorbell rings over and over again and a drunk woman with running mascara and too much eye shadow pounds on his heavily barricaded front door, screaming, "RAAAAAANDY!!! LET ME IN, HONEY!!! I'LL MAKE YOU SOME POPCORN SHRIMP!!!"

Terrifying. Maybe they made a good point. I'll have to think about that one for a bit. I'll get back to you on it.

Moving along...

The Good: Barenaked Ladies

I want to say right up front that I love this band. They have such a wide variety of styles that they play, from rock to folk to country to straight ahead pop, it's hard to pick a favorite. I can't think of a single song of theirs that I wouldn't enjoy hearing at any given time. Go ahead. Pick a song. I'll listen to it until I'm blue in the ears.

See? They're fun!
The band currently consists of Ed Robertson (guitar and vocals), Kevin Hearn (keyboards, guitar, accordian, vocals and catering, I think), Jim Creegan (bass and vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums, percussion and vocals). Up until 2009, Steven Page was the band's lead singer, but he left to pursue other avenues, releasing an album called Page One and starring in a television show called The Illegal Eater. You may recognize these guys from their first major single here in the U.S., "The Old Apartment", or, more likely, from this song:

See? Like BTO, these guys know how to jam a hook in your brain and make it stick. Just by searching YouTube, I got the fast "Chickety-China, the Chinese Chicken" bit running through my head and I had to sing it out loud, much to the apparent concern of Bosco, who I'm sure believes I've lost my mind. The same thing happens when I watch The Big Bang Theory, for which they wrote the theme.

Dammit. Now I have to sing that song...Back in a second...

The Bad: Justin Bieber

It seems a little too easy to pick on Bieber, especially considering his recent forays into felonious territory, but he is just terrible. Really, really terrible.

I think that's him on the left. Seriously, fuck that guy.
I was going to try to find a video of one of his songs to link here, but that would have meant I would have to at least listen to a tiny portion of it, and since I've heard roughly one whole minute of one of his songs, I figured that was enough and decided to link to a song from Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman's Hollywood Babble-On podcast, which is infinitely more entertaining and rewarding.

I don't know about you, but that pretty much sums it all up for me.

The Good: Rush

This one may be a little tough for me to write. You see, I'm not a huge fan of Rush. I mean, I get the music, and I know that, for the most part, they are an incredibly talented band. Alex Lifeson is a creative and interesting guitarist, and Neil Peart is quite possibly one of the greatest drummers that ever lived. It should also be pointed out that Peart writes most, if not all, of the lyrics for the band, so there's that.

No, the one that I have a problem with is Geddy Lee. First, there's his bass. It's just too loud and twangy for my taste. It overrides the other instruments. Dial it back, Geddy. You're the front man. There's no reason to dominate all the music, too.

He also has a soul patch. The guy is, like, 70, and he has a soul patch.
My next problem with Mr. Lee is his voice. I just don't like the way he sounds. Sure, he has a unique voice, but it's also incredibly annoying. It's like having a cheese grater rubbed against my ears.

That said, they're still a solid and talented band. And there's a reason why John Moe, the host of Wits, calls them "everybody's older brother's favorite band." That reason is the musicianship, which is demonstrated here, on an instrumental piece called "YYZ":

Incidentally, the opening notes are Morse Code for the title of the song.

One other neat thing I recently discovered about the band is this: Geddy Lee no longer uses amplifiers. He plugs his bass directly into the soundboard (presumably to make it easier to override everyone else onstage), and now uses what would normally be the area where his amps go as a place to put unusual gimmicks, like washing machines filled with t-shirts, which he throws to the crowd throughout the show. Fun!

The Bad: Kim Mitchell

This could have been an easy spot to take a shot at the band everybody loves to hate, Nickelback. However, as I've already picked one easy target for this post, I've decided to go with the deep cut that is Canadian rock guitarist Kim Mitchell.

Pictured: Nickelback. NOT Kim Mitchell.
They just look so punchable...Almost too punchable.
I get it, Canada. Kim Mitchell is quite a talented guitarist. But I just don't understand how he managed to gain the popularity he has, considering the laughably cliched songs he writes, such as "Go For A Soda":

If you don't think those lyrics are corny enough, look up "Rock And Roll Duty". Like "Go For A Soda", it has great guitar riffs, but is instantly ruined the moment the singer (Mitchell himself, I believe) opens his mouth and begins spewing lyrics like the following:

My Rock 'N Roll heartaches end up in song
Sometimes i get it right sometimes I'm wrong
And my love of Rock N Roll makes me a one-night-stand
Sometimes I'm enriched sometimes I'm tanned
I'm just doing my Rock N Roll duty

It gets worse from there. These lyrics remind me of the German band Autograph, a band that hit it big with "Turn Up The Radio", a song so filled with rock and roll cliches that it should have been issued with leather pants and a bandanna to hang around your neck when you listened to it.

The one thing that even remotely redeems Mitchell is that he really is a talented guitarist. I also recently discovered that he contributed a guitar solo for the song "Wind Me Up" by Barenaked Ladies. But that doesn't excuse the lyrics. That's all I'm saying.

Kim Mitchell (right) may look like Moby and Peter Frampton's love child,
but at least he doesn't have a goddamn soul patch. Suck it, Geddy.
There are plenty of other examples I could offer, both good (Alanis Morrisette, Bruce Cockburn, any of the Wainwright family) and bad (Sebastion Bach, Celine Dion, Gino Vannelli), not to mention some just plain "What the hell?":

Therefore, I encourage you to seek out some of the interesting and unusual musical fare that Canada has to offer. There's plenty of it out there.

And, again, try poutine. You'll thank me, right after your triple bypass surgery.

All the best,
Derek and Bosco