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Barenaked Ladies: Grinning Streak

Veteran Canadians back with a big bang.

In a quarter-century of sometimes inspired, sometimes irritating wackiness, Toronto’s alpha nerds (perhaps best known here for their The Big Bang Theory theme song) have shifted millions of records and bagged many awards.

Their twelfth album, given smooth propulsion by artful producers like Howie Beck and Gavin Brown, still throws in wry jokes aplenty but admits a seductive sincerity, so that bespectacled braininess is married to real heart and killer tunes. Instant stand-outs like Boomerang and Off His Head are obvious radio hits, with Ed Robertson’s voice, astutely pitched halfway between irony and heartache, draping the wordplay over catchy choruses.

As the album develops, greater sonic ambition sneaks in. Day Dreamin’ is a throbbing, beautifully judged assault of guitars and keyboards, like Crowded House with a bonfire under them. Epic closer Crawl takes what might have been a U2 stadium filler and teases out tension with delicious washes of trembling synth.

Affecting rather than affected, Grinning Streak sees cerebral craftsmen who’ve always refused to take music too seriously drop the winking and discover the pleasures of passion. A winner.