Song of the Day #352: ‘War on Drugs’ – Barenaked Ladies

everythingI’m suspending this week’s Motown Weekend in order to finish off Barenaked Ladies theme week. The Motown clips will return next Saturday.

The band’s sixth studio album, 2003’s Everything to Everyone, was a disappointment relative to their previous efforts, in terms of both sales and quality. That’s not to say it’s a bad album by any means… it just feels a bit paint-by-numbers.

One problem that creeps into bands with one or two principal songwriters is the creative frustration of the rest of the band, leading to the inevitable inclusion of those band members in the songwriting process.

Steven Page and Ed Robertson have written just about every BNL song, and certainly every great one (Page collaborated with Stephen Duffy, who isn’t a band member, on many of those tunes as well). On Everything to Everyone, bassist Jim Creeggan and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn collaborated on several songs — and it shows. No offense, gentlemen, but why can’t you leave the songwriting to the experts? There’s a reason The Beatles let Ringo write only a couple of tunes.

The album does contain two excellent songs, not surprisingly written by Page and Robertson and performed by Page. The first is ‘Upside Down,’ a wildly rocking accordion-fueled diatribe that ranks among the band’s best fast-paced songs.

The other is today’s selection, ‘War on Drugs,’ which follows ‘Upside Down’ on the album in a complete stylistic reversal. The song is reminiscent of ‘Call and Answer’ in its softly epic balladry. It’s a song about suicide and depression, not unlike Dar Williams’ ‘After All,’ which I featured a week ago. It comes to a similar conclusion about the pain we carry being a necessary part of life, or as they cleverly put it: “Won’t it be dull when we rid ourselves of all these demons haunting us to keep us company?”

This song is a bit more ambiguous than ‘After All,’ and the final verse suggests the suicidal woman might have gone through with it. I’m open to interpretations of that verse, including the use of title phrase, and the song as a whole.

She likes to sleep with the radio on
So she can dream of her favorite song
The one that no one has ever sung since she was small

She’ll never know that she made it up
She had a soul and we ate it up
Thrown away like a paper cup
The music falls

The only flaw in her detailed plan
Is where she wins back the love of her man
Everyone knows that he’s never coming back

He took her heart and she took his name
He couldn’t stand taking all the blame
He left her only with guilt and shame and then she cracked

Won’t it be dull when we rid ourselves
Of all these demons haunting us
To keep us company

In the dream I refuse to have
She falls asleep in a lukewarm bath
We’re left to deal with the aftermath again

On behalf of humanity
I will fight for your sanity
How profound such profanity can be

Won’t it be dull when we rid ourselves
Of all these demons haunting us
To keep us company

Won’t it be odd to be happy like we
Always thought we’re supposed to feel
But never seem to be

Near where I live there’s a viaduct
Where people jump when they’re out of luck
Raining down on the cars and trucks below

They’ve put a net there to catch their fall
Like it’ll stop anyone at all
What they don’t know is when nature calls, you go

They say that Jesus and mental health
Are just for those who can help themselves
But what good is that when you live in hell on earth?

From the very fear that makes you want to die
Is just the same as what keeps you alive
It’s way more trouble than some suicide is worth

Won’t it be dull when we rid ourselves
Of all these demons haunting us
To keep us company

Won’t it be odd to be happy like we
Always thought we’re supposed to feel
But never seem to be

Hard to admit I fought the war on drugs
My hands were tied and the phone was bugged
Another died and the world just shrugged it off

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One thought on “Song of the Day #352: ‘War on Drugs’ – Barenaked Ladies

  1. Dana says:

    beautiful song. Curious to hear the lesser songs from the other band members. I agree that Ringo should never have been allowed to write or really even sing a song. On the hand, George Harrison, arguably, wrote some of the greater Beatles songs, so I’m glad Paul and John let him have his tunes on those records.

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