Steven Page – Discipline: Heal Thyself Part II (Warner)
It took a brief, nationally televised Barenaked Ladies reunion to remind most people that former co-frontman Steven Page was an active solo artist. This new record will quite easily put to rest any notions that he needs his old band (who are doing quite well themselves, thank you): Discipline is perhaps the single strongest collection of songs Page has ever assembled.
He warned us that he was not messing around. Earlier this summer he dropped the single “White Noise,” and released a lyric video featuring footage of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, over which we could hear an unusually punk rock Page singing, “I tell you, as an immigrant and a Jew / I’d be more than glad to replace you … Let’s have a Second Civil War! / That’s what the Second Amendment is for … Said the snowflake to the nationalist / ‘I won’t cease until you desist / you raise your flag, I’ll raise my fist / Resist! Resist! Resist!’ ” He wasn’t just interested in sloganeering, either: the song itself was a major-key pop song that would stand as one of his finest singles, regardless of what it was about. Fist, meet velvet glove.
The rest of the record isn’t pointed as directly at the jugular (with the exception of the brief interlude, “You Fucked Yourself”), although opening track “Nothing Special” is a similarly political song, where it’s odd to hear a peppy pop song with the couplet, “Children starving in the desert sun / look out, mama, junior’s got a gun!” Much of the genre-jumping song there is set to an “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” shuffle and similar synth sound. Page’s secret weapon throughout, as it was on 2016’s first instalment of Heal Thyself, is Craig Northey of the Odds, who also shares some co-writing credits.
What sets Page the solo artist far apart from his previous work is his embrace of lush orchestration—indeed, he’s performing several gigs this fall with local symphonies. The arrangements suit the range of his melodies; Page has always been somewhat underrated as a vocalist, but even a casual listen to this record would illustrate his obvious skill. Several tracks lean on a bossa nova beat, notably the satire of anti-science skeptics “Gravity” (“All I can see is what God tells me to see / and we live in a world that’s outlawed gravity”), while others echo Burt Bacharach (“What I Got From You”) or Broadway (“Done”), with a straight-up 6/8 R&B ballad for good measure (“Where Do You Stand”).
It would take a game-changing, incredibly strong record to help Page shake the baggage of his former band. This record is it. (Sept. 21)
Stream: "White Noise," “Nothing Special,” “Gravity”