Published Sep 14, 2018Close listeners of Steven Page's music, from his days with Barenaked Ladies through his solo work, know that he doesn't shy away from serious subject matter. Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II, departs conceptually from its predecessor, but finds Page at a creative high point, while recapturing the anger and activism of an earlier era.
It's not hard to divine the plot here: Page re-entered the studio to polish the tracks that didn't make it on to Heal Thyself Pt. I: Instinct; a whole lot changed (read: got worse) south of the border where he now resides, so he wrote a bunch of new songs with a new sense of urgency. "Throw away the bill of rights / For anyone who isn't white," sings Page on "White Noise," the furious first single.
The veteran singer-songwriter marries his usual emotional expansiveness to a sprawling range of musical genres over the 12 tracks here. The doo-wop inspired "Where Do You Stand?" implores people to stand up for something — anything really — while "Gravity" and "Shooting Star" reflect on a not-so-hard-to-imagine world without facts. Catharsis comes somewhere in the '70s smooth jazz transition between "You Fucked Yourself" and "Done," as in "I'm done being worthless to you," couched in lush cello pop portraiture.
There are moments of grandeur exploring punk rock, bossa nova, big band, and more of the carefully crafted folk-pop that Page is known for. "A Failure" and "Looking for the Light" transcend easy periodization, and as a result transport listeners to another, better time, like an escape hatch in the wall. He's not just surveying his musical influences here; he's giving them a new sense of purpose.
In other words, the record covers a lot of ground and has a whole lot to say, including about the moment in music it represents. Page's ability to combine deep anger, frustration and resignation with melodic glee should inform current and future generations of politically charged songwriters. It remains possible, maybe imperative, to dress up political discourse in lush folk-pop, even the dark stuff, without the message getting lost in translation.
With breathtaking range and remarkable cohesion, Steven Page nudges the genre and the rest of us in this way to be more active, ambitious, and engaged. Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II is a masterwork. (Warner)