Ten Years #41: Our Lady Peace


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
41. Our Lady Peace (765 plays)
Top track (30 plays): Angels Losing Sleep, from Healthy in Paranoid Times (2005)

We are all entitled to a guilty pleasure or two. I would humor calling Our Lady Peace mine, but only if we agree to restrict their cause for lameness to the lyrics. Their popularity, especially as those “Canadian softies” emerging amidst much heavier U.S. trends, overshadows the fact that they are absolutely amazing. Raine Maida’s voice is capable of making anything sound great, and capable of making me not give a shit about singing a falsetto at the top of my lungs at traffic lights with my windows down. Even as I was signing the final divorce papers with my radio in the late 90s and letting my affair with Napster and heavy metal be known, I was probably listening to 1999′s Happiness…is Not a Fish That You Can Catch more than any other album on the market. I’ve definitely listened to it more than most other 1990s albums–even the grunge greats–in my more informed years to follow.

How people have experienced OLP over the years probably varies drastically depending on where you’re from. The late 1990s and early 2000s marked the final days of musical segregation, with Americans barely having a clue who Radiohead, Blur, and Muse were. (Didn’t one of them do that “woo-hoo” song?) The U.S. and Canada were a bit more in sync, but Our Lady Peace was definitely not the overhyped megaband down here that my Canadian friends recall. They were just “that band that did Clumsy and Superman’s Dead”. The singles on Happiness received minimal air time, and the only song since that I’ve really heard extensively here was “Somewhere Out There” (Gravity, 2002). (I can’t honestly speak for their last three albums of course. Maybe “Angels Losing Sleep” was huge–it deserves to be–but I hadn’t listened to mainstream radio in years by then.) My main point here is that, while OLP might have been played to the point of annoyance in Canada, down here they were presented modestly enough to not face serious media pollution. I had a better opportunity to engage them by choice–and choose which songs I liked best.

Our Lady Peace are a band that has definitely catered to the radio single. Even on their first album, Naveed (1994), a few tracks stood out as decisively more catchy than the status quo. Their albums by and large are never perfect; there are plenty of second-rate tracks in their discography. What they have really accomplished throughout their career is a consistency of top-notch quality among the handful of main focus tracks they produce for a given album. They are a band better set to a playlist, and even as recently as Burn Burn in 2009 they’ve pumped out new material worthy of that mix. (“Signs of Life”, “Paper Moon”–featured above) Happiness…is Not a Fish That You Can Catch remains, I think, their best album by far, because it is the only one for which I can safely say there are no downer tracks. Every song on that album could be a single. But I really do enjoy the full discography, and I have a tendency to queue it up from start to finish when I’ve got a long project to work on at home. Something about the more ho-hum tracks projects a sort of humility on the big picture–the sense that these guys are down to earth, not supernaturally brilliant in the sense of contemporaries like Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Their lyrics are frequently incredibly lame, but that’s the only major fault I hear in a band that was perhaps a bit too successful to be appreciated for their real worth.

Our Lady Peace: a guilty pleasure? Maybe, but I’ll keep singing along.

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7 responses to “Ten Years #41: Our Lady Peace

  1. “Their lyrics are frequently incredibly lame, but that’s the only major fault I hear in a band that was perhaps a bit too successful to be appreciated for their real worth”

    Your review was moving along clumsily, then it leveled off…then I figured if this is it, I may as well stop you in your tracks. (All puns intended)

    Their lyrics are universal, timeless and written with something that no other Canadian band has – talent. The depth of their writing in each and every album is incomparable to any other group in music today. Their music is still created with music lovers in mind – it’s conceptualized, has a theme and represents a chapter in their progression as artists.

    You were more objective than some of the other reviews I have read, so for that I have to hand it to you. Yet, your tell tale signs of being a “Fan of their older stuff” is blinding.

    I challenge you to visit their youtube page, watch their writing sessions for “Curve”. listen to some of the interviews they gave while promoting the album , then revisit its entirety. This is the album THEY would want to listen to in 20 years ( and was created as such ) and the nail was hit on the head so many times , it fell off.

    Just please, take off your 2002 hat when you do it. The band has progressed so much since those days – and if you have a real fan inside you, this will bring it out :) because it is all…I repeat, all…about the (timeless) lyrics and incredible music they create that is so unique.

    • I had a funny feeling when I wrote this one that some fan would come to OLP’s “defense”. It places me in an awkward position, because I really love this band. Well, here we go.

      Calling OLP the only talented Canadian band in existence and stating that their depth is “incomparable to any other group in music today” is naive. A robust familiarity with music reveals the truly arbitrary nature of our measuring sticks. “The best” dissolves to nothing when you hear enough bands achieve greatness through fundamentally different means. Even such review methods as a score from 1 to 10 or a percentage out of 100 are dubious. (I think I would draw the line at “meh”, “pretty good”, “amazing”.) The best we can do is explore the circumstances impacting a piece of music’s personal appeal and attempt to describe in our insufficient ways what about it most moves or displeases us. If we investigate our opinions deeper, we will inevitably run out of gas at some point and be forced to draw conclusions, but we can never resolve to the term “best” unconditionally and remain honest. It can serve as convenient shorthand when we’re just heaping praise on a band we agree to love, but it’s not worth anything in an argument.

      Regarding tell tale signs of being a “fan of their older stuff”, I argue that there is nothing tell tale about it. I readily and openly admit to being a fan of their older stuff and to being less familiar with their works after Spiritual Machines. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m writing their newer material off. Most (but not all) artists wane in time; that’s just a consequence of aging. It is important to strike a balance between acknowledging natural decline and continuing to give fresh material serious consideration. I made no mention of Curve (though I do own a physical copy), because I do not feel that I have listened to it sufficiently to form a sound opinion. I made a point to sample a track from Burn Burn rather than a more nostalgic number in order to emphasize that OLP are aging more gracefully than most. If I do eventually find the time and motivation to properly engage Curve, I will keep your recommendation to watch these interviews in mind.

      Regarding “lame” lyrics, Spiritual Machines is the example that always comes to my mind first. Most people would agree that songs like “Are You Sad?” and “Middle of Yesterday” are “lame”, “sappy”, “emo”, what have you. Perhaps this attitude is more a fault of society than of the band. It is, however, the way we use the words, for better or worse, and I believe I applied them correctly. “Are you sad? Are you holding yourself, locked in your room? You shouldn’t be.” … “I’m sorry for the things I forgot to say, but it won’t be long and it will be ok.” Who is not conditioned to roll their eyes at these sorts of lines, honestly? Sure, there is more depth to their songs than “she loves you yeaahh yeaahh yeaahh” or your newest teen pop idol’s scripted output, but I would never be so crude as to compare OLP to such drivel. Their lyrics capture real human experiences–I suppose that’s better than some–but they fail to circumvent our gut reactions to the sort of verbal expressions that trigger derision.

      In regards to your second comment, my “Ten Years” series has nothing to do with music released in a particular decade. It is a reflection on the 50 bands I personally have listened to the most in the past decade, identifiable compliments of last.fm. (OLP is #41 out of 2,981. Not too shabby!)

  2. P.S – since they have sustained their careers for over TWO decades and not one, maybe you could change the title ?
    Just a thought :)
    :

  3. I just find so many contradictions in your reviews. On one hand, you seem to be waving a middle finger to the fact that they aren’t pumping out “hit” songs – while in the same breath criticizing their conceived attempts at trying to do so?

    Nothing adds up.Your scattered and fluffy observations about a band you clearly haven’t enjoyed for years is what was “telling”

    Trying to dance around semantics with words you think will confuse or intimidate , really don’t work. I appreciate your effort to give it thought. After all, at least you are still trying to get your finger on the pulse of this iconic group.

    Commendable, dear poster.

    However

    I strongly suggest you take some time – research the motivating factors behind their newest album and how it reflects on what they already have done. If you are a genuine fan of the artistry that they have shown in the past, you just may be recreated as a fan of the now.

    Its where we live, no?

    • I’m fascinated by the numerous down votes this post continues to receive, so I’ll humor a response after all:

      First, did you read my last reply to you, or was it too “intimidating”? Your response seems to have ignored it.

      Second, what exactly is a “hit” song? A radio single? Those who do not listen to the radio (me), or who live in a region where a particular band is not marketed (me), are fairly oblivious to “hits” (my point in the second paragraph). I certainly would say that I do not find every single song in their entire discography amazing. A few of them even bore me. Does this constitute “waving a middle finger?” And from what statements do you derive this awkward contradiction you speak of?

      You seem to find my article incoherent because you are continuing to presuppose that it is an attack on OLP. This makes little sense to me, since–I repeat for the third time–OLP is one of my all-time favorite bands. Furthermore, I clearly have enjoyed this band quite recently, as is proven by the fact-based statistics generating the content of this post series. (See, again, my previous reply.) If your comment that I “clearly haven’t enjoyed OLP for years” merely refers to the fact that I have yet to listen to or pass any judgement on Curve, well, I cannot help it that OLP take their time releasing new albums.

      But really, if you wish to argue, respond to me; don’t just repeat yourself in vague terms. I have made, as I see it, two comments which might potentially perturb a diehard OLP fan: I have offered a detailed criticism of their lyrics (see my previous response), and I have described their albums as typically containing distinct highs and lows, rather than being even-keel in quality. I will consider expanding upon this latter matter if it is the source of your disapproval, but at the moment you have neither responded to my comments nor illustrated a further coherent point on which we disagree.

  4. Pretty fucking genius if you ask me. Radio “Hits” after all – over saturate an artist and therefore choke out any unique feeling in their music. ( Which I never would have thought of if OLP hadnt said that themselves)

    Personally – I like that people like this reviewer exist. One more album for me and quite frankly, if someone says they miss Raines ” nasal falsetto” one more time – I will punch a kitten.

    Seriously.

    Its music – you like it or you dont.

  5. I have to agree with A.N & Just A Girl on this one
    The band went into semi-obscurity on purpose. Their fan base is comprised of people whom grew right along with them. His lyrics are brilliant and their career is far from over. If you ask me, its pretty smart. They have no desire for mass marketed hits that appeal to the droves of senseless sheep we have consuming music. Their sound, writing and lyrics are for TRUE OLP fans.
    Sorry.

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