A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the vinyl reissue of Naveed by Our Lad Peace.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, it is genuinely incredible when one considers how many classic bands just seemed to materialize from nowhere on the streets of Toronto in the first half of the 1990s. That might sound like an overstatement to those who came along later, but it’s true; bands like The Tragically Hip, the Headstones, Gorp, 13 Engines, The Morganfields, Thrush Hermit I Mother Earth, 54-40, The Killjoys, Doughboys, Econoline Crush, Tristan Psionic and legions more were all on the stages in clubs around the Greater Toronto Area, or on tour cutting their teeth on the Trans-Canada Highway. It was unbelievable just how great the wealth of talent was and it didn’t take long for some of those bands to begin making enough noise that they were heard South of the border.
Arguably the biggest and best success story to come out of the Nineties Canadian rock pile from an international response standpoint was Our Lady Peace. Formed in 1992, the band’s ambition was clear as they took the clubs of Toronto by storm and quickly graduated to theaters and concert halls [eventually, OLP would be the Canadian contribution to the ill-fated Woodstock ’99 festival –ed]. Likewise, it wasn’t long before record labels began taking notice and, by 1994, the group had inked a deal with Sony Music in Canada and was readying the release of their debut album, Naveed; it came together just that fast and with an apparent ease that defies easy comprehension.
It may defy easy understanding on paper but, even upon first listen as the opening track “The Birdman” tears Naveed open and exposes a tangible sense of fury (both for and within those listening), Our Lady Peace’s sneering disposition comes through. The hooks will already start sinking into those listening. And even if they were expecting a motion with the kind of energy that “The Birdman” flaunts, they’ll still be taken clean off their feet because the relentless power of it comes at them from all angles (vocals, bass, drums, guitars). Right off, the song (and performance of it) expresses a foreboding danger wrapped in an acerbic delivery. And the hook can be found in the fact that – because this is the first damned thing lots of people had ever heard from this band – it feels as though it’s coming from nowhere. It hits hard, and people will feel compelled to find out where it leads. After listeners are through that door, bassist Chris Eacrett’s propulsive performance pushes them forward while Mike Turner’s fierce rhythm guitar part balances precariously on the edge of blazing fury while drummer Jeremy Taggart’s performance batters their heads until they relent to it. Combined, listeners will be able to feel their eyes refocus into a different emotional vision – when suddenly singer Raine Maida’s vocal overtakes them in a chorus which sounds more than a little paranoid and ensures that both the band and listeners are in-step. Simply said, listeners become the character singing “The Birdman” – they own it and it owns them.
That sort of angry but perfectly accessible fervor carries over effortlessly into “Supersatellite,” where the band splits its time jittering out a smooth two-step rhythm and battering listeners who still aren’t coming correct yet. Now just shy of a quarter century later, it’s even easier to tell that OLP’s original rhythm section was one of the most clearly underrated of the time period, a fact that has been renewed with this reissue. Here, the duo drives an almost sinister sounding rhythm which feels a little forbidden but is intoxicating for it. At the same time, Maida follows suit (the way the lyrical performance plays is phenomenal – the lines “I’ve read the Bible, I’ve read Dylan/ I’m reading people now/ Because it is much more chilling” simultaneously sound dark and disconnected) and combined, the group feels as though they’re coiling up. When Turner screeches in for the chorus, the effect is almost orgasmic in its eruption. But rather than remaining at that peak for the rest of the song as many bands would, OLP then recoils to rebuild the song’s level of tension. It’s here that listeners may realize just how disciplined and perfectly in control Our Lady Peace is of what they’re presenting; there is no wasted movement, everything drives to present this young band as dancing on a razor’s edge, masterfully.
And some listeners know that the band’s only getting warmed up. After “Supersatellite,” longtime fans will discover to their joy that precisely nothing about “Starseed” has diminished in the twenty-three years since Naveed was first released. Those already familiar will be able to feel the little hairs on the backs of their necks spontaneously stand at attention as Turner’s opening acoustic guitar riff melts into into a few bars of feedback and then Eacrett’s bass begins to get the song some forward movement, hypnotically.
The beginning of “Starseed” is still easily able to pull listeners in, but the really cool part is that – even a quarter century later – the song itself still has a raucous energy which has not at all faded. Raine Maida’s signature, vocal register-ignoring yelp (fans know the sound and can try to reproduce it on command: “Yeah-hee!”) combined with Steve Turner’s roiling guitar sound (which makes the most of a distorted guitar grind without sounding turgid) and that already-celebrated-here rhythm section come together on “Starseed” in a way that perfectly defines the band and captures a truly inspired performance too. Factor in the unbelievable fidelity that listeners get from a virgin vinyl copy of this reissue, and the possibility of getting a better listening experience of this song (and, further, of Naveed as a whole) feels as though it has been taken completely off the table. It just feels that good.
And after “Starseed,” we’re not even through the A-side of the album yet! After “Starseed” has melted the faces of everyone within earshot, “Hope” starts to just seethe its way through rather than attempting to extend that plateau, and only then does the A-side close – with a furious bang thanks to the album’s title track.
Twenty-some years later, “Naveed” plays like a perfect punctuation mark. There is anger, fury and vitriol in Raine Maida’s vocal and great power that listeners will be unable to miss, while the song itself presents a loud/soft dynamic (although not at all as pronounced as it was in the case of, say, Nirvana or The Pixies) complete with gaffe-sized hooks which will have listeners not just ready to flip the disc in hopes of more on the B-side, but will seal the deal and have them ready to return for more.
After they’ve flipped the album, listeners will be met by the distorted and almost trashy guitar tone of “Dirty Walls” which comes close to emulating that of classic Jane’s Addiction insofar as its scruffy and artistic angling. There – and in both “Denied” and “Is It Safe” (the two songs which follow “Dirty Walls”) – the band doesn’t exactly shoot for ‘epic’ posturing so much as attempting to cross classic rock posturing with alt-rock style with solid results. Granted, none of those songs would go on to be remembered as warmly as the singles found on the A-side of the album, but these deeper cuts have been nicely intensified by the updated production offered to this reissue and now play more brightly than they once did. On this reissue, those three songs now play very much like the deep secret which was once hidden in the running of Naveed before “Julia” offers one last classic Nineties Can-rock radio hit on the album’s B-side, and leaves listeners in perfect fits of ecstasy.
Saying that the desire to run through the album repeatedly may read like an obvious attempt at salesmanship here, but readers can rest assured that it is not. The truth is that Naveed genuinely deserves an elegant reissue like this one because it is not just an album of historic importance (it would join the ranks with Picture Of Health by the Headstones, Scenery and Fish by I Mother Earth, Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret by 54-40 and Fully Completely by The Tragically Hip as keystone Canadian rock albums), it is one of OLP’s best – without a doubt. Twenty years later, this reissue of Naveed proves the classicism of the music on the album by playing as well now as it did upon its original release. [Bill Adams]
The new vinyl reissue of Our Lady Peace’s Naveed is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.