After Kurt Cobain’s death seemed to take grunge with it to the grave, a number of acts flourished that drank from the grunge cup but also fed on classic rock and upbeat retro-pop. Collective Soul, Live, even Nirvana-spinoff the Foo Fighters, for instance. North of the border the trend was vital as well, and none did it better than Our Lady Peace. They hit their pinnacle a quarter century back, with the release of Clumsy this day in 1997.
Our Lady Peace had begun in Toronto in 1992, essentially the vision of singer/writer Raine Maida. They had massive success at home with their debut, Naveed, which while not a smash in the U.S. at least got them noticed there. Following up was a bit of an effort for them, especially when they toured close to non-stop for a couple of years. Their producer, Arnold Lanni finally took the situation into his own hands and took the band with him to a remote cottage in Ontario in the winter of ’96, where they had no distractions other than a few games of pick-up hockey on the frozen lake. They quickly put together about 20 demo tracks, and were able to record them fairly quickly upon return to Toronto. Maida said he had the idea of a “carnival atmosphere” for the music, reflected perhaps in the record cover. The first song they did for the record was called “Trapeze”, which was also apparently a working title for the album. Curiously, it got ditched. But many good ones remained, which produced the 11-song album, plus their cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was done for the The Craft movie soundtrack.
The song titles suggest more grunge, less carnival. Take “Car Crash”, “Let You Down” and the single “Superman’s Dead” for instance. No wonder allmusic characterize their music as “bittersweet” “brooding” and “reflective”! Reflective probably is more accurate than many noticed; Maida and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk (a popular musician herself) are both very politically-active and have undertaken many charity missions to the Third World. “Superman’s Dead”, it turns out has less to do with the comic book superhero than it does with the decline of popular media. “I grew up with the old Superman, the black-and-white one,” Maida said. “It’s evolved into Beavis and Butthead…(kids) images are defined by television. It’s kind of sad.”
Reaction to the album was anything but sad however, especially at home. In a rare case of convergence, their hometown hard rock station, Q107 and alternative rock one, CFNY stations both listed it as the #1 record of the year. As allmusic noted later, it was likely their best work and it helped them “beat the sophomore slump.” “What makes Our Lady Peace a powerful act is their desire to keep it real on their own turf.”
In Canada, the title track was a #1 hit and “Superman’s Dead,” “4AM” and “Automatic Flowers” all hit the top 30, helping the album debut at #1 and stay high on the charts for most of the year. Eventually it went diamond, and it still ranks as the eighth biggest-selling Canadian album at home. In the U.S., a little bad luck turned good for them. The small label that had been their home in the States decided it wanted to go all-rap, and managed to drop them from their contract. Although that delayed its release there, in time, Columbia (which put them out in Canada) decided it might as well promote and distribute them in the U.S. as well. “Clumsy” made it to #5 on Billboard‘s Alternative Rock chart, and “Superman’s Dead” #11 on the same. Although it peaked at a dismal #76 there, it’s enduring popularity made it eventually hit the platinum plateau by 2004. Worldwide, it’s moved around five million copies. If Raine and his band were trying to make a hit, their effort was far from “clumsy”, it turns out.