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Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page

After a three-year hiatus following 2000's muted Maroon, Canada's Barenaked Ladies return to form with the somewhat ironically titled Everything to Everyone. The album mixes lightweight, whimsical pop reminiscent of the band's 1998 hit "One Week" ("Another Postcard") with serious, reflective meditations ("War on Drugs") and bemused swipes at celebrity culture ("Celebrity"). Singer/songwriter Steven Page called Creative Loafing to discuss that juggling act, Martin Amis, and the merits of U2's tour documentary Rattle and Hum.

Creative Loafing: You guys still get a fair amount of critical drubbing. Does it still chafe to be referred to as just a novelty or joke band?

Steven Page: Of course it does. It's like people who are self-conscious about their height [and other people] calling them "Shorty" all the time. It's a way for critics to separate themselves from the artist. Yeah, we have a sense of humor, but so do a million other artists out there. But they don't get nailed for it. On this record, our decision was, we weren't going to step away from that. Our last record didn't have many jokes on it, which I think kept it from being a classic Barenaked Ladies album.

You say that, even though the single "Pinch Me" featured the line, "I just made you say underwear."

That's the closest we got — and of course that's the one the record company chose for the single. We've been stuck in this position with this record: Well, we do jokes and people like them, and the record company says we have to put the songs with the jokes out because that's what worked before. But then you do that and people say, "We're sick of the joke songs." So we're kind of always stuck.

The album is filled with songs that take subtle digs at our consumer culture.

People have stopped paying attention to whether something's good. I don't know if you read Martin Amis, but his new book is getting totally destroyed. And the most amazing thing is, [the focus from] the media in America isn't about whether the book is good or not. All the interviews are like, "How do you feel about how other people feel about you?"

So it's not a reaction to the public reaction to your last album?

No, but I think songs like "Testing 1, 2, 3" certainly address the dilemma we put ourselves in. The record company says, "We need you to write a single," and they have a sense of what that single needs to be: a bunch of really fast rhymes, like "One Week" or "Pinch Me." You can't really repeat the formula, but you have to be aware that a formula has created itself. Everyone has their own little tricks, and that's one of [singer/guitarist] Ed [Robertson]'s tricks, the rap verse and the sung chorus. So with the chimpanzee song ("Another Postcard"), we were trying to intentionally make fun of that. And [the label was] like, "Yeah! That's the single!" And we're, "Uh, OK." At the same time, it is kind of resoundingly commercial sounding. You forget when you're making it that it's more about the perception of the song than the song itself.

That's inevitably going to lead to charges that you haven't changed much, stylistically.

We certainly weren't making an effort to become a different band on this record. But the way the internal mechanism worked, we made the biggest change we've ever made. The writing was done as a four-piece, whereas it had been done largely by me and Ed in our secret lair. Creatively, that was a huge change. But as far as comparing it to other records, it's hard for us until it's already out there. Some of our fans say they think it's the best record since the first one. I don't even know which one I like best. Each record is a snapshot of places you were at at the time.

Barenaked in America [Jason Priestley's BNL tour documentary] versus Rattle and Hum: Who wins, and why?

That's easy. Barenaked in America, because we didn't have the gospel choir. Once you involve a gospel choir, you've lost something. I think one of the biggest success stories was how U2 came back after Rattle and Hum. Now, if you say, Barenaked versus [Radiohead documentary] Meeting People Is Easy, then Meeting People Is Easy would win.

Barenaked Ladies perform at Star 94's Jingle Jam Sat., Dec. 20, at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. $27-$37.