Brendan Benson

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One Mississippi (1996), 6.5/10
Lapalco (2002), 7/10
The Alternative to Love (2005), 6/10
My Old Familiar Friend (2009), 5/10
What Kind of World (2012), 6.5/10
You Were Right (2013), 5/10
Dear Life (2020), 5/10

Michigan's singer-songwriter Brendan Benson debuted with One Mississippi (1996), helped out by Jason Falkner of Jellyfish, an album equally divided in mellow poppy creations and more virulent eruptions. On one hand Benson indulges in a modest revival of the 1960s (echoes of bubblegum-pop in Sittin' Pretty, of melodic garage-rock in Crosseyed and of Paul McCartney in Tea, the melodic standout) while at the same time he ventures into punk-pop with Merseybeat-esque vocal harmonies (How 'Bout You and Maginary Girl), pub-rock a` la Elvis Costello (Insects Rule) and a quasi-punk rant (Bird's Eye View). In between the two camps, he occasionally sounds like Todd Rundgren (Cherries). Benson was picking up where Matthew Sweet has left off.

Todd Rundgren-ian power-pop is the closest reference point for the ditties on Lapalco (2002), another, and better, half-collaboration with Falkner. Tiny Spark and Folk Singer are the two melodic gems, but they are just the appetizer. The more energetic Good To Me (a pounding Tom Petty-esque rocker), You're Quiet (that sounds like the Byrds with a synth replacing the jangling guitars), and What (the best manifestation of his obsession for Merseybeat vocal harmonies and march-like rhythms) boast equally memorable refrains. Not surprisingly, Benson ends up sounding like the Smithereens in I'm Easy. On the other hand, he still indulges in slower, mellower ballads in the Paul McCartney vein (Life In the D). The longest song is a piano and synth oddity, Jet Lag, with little or no melodic variation.

Benson's band, The Well Fed Boys, released the EP Metarie (2003).

The Alternative to Love (2005) can't match that verve and inspiration. Most of the album thrives on the half-baked pop of tunes like Cold Hands and I Feel Like Myself Again, and of grittier (and better) tunes like Gold Into Straw and Spit It Out. Orchestral arrangement surface in Flesh and Bone and the synth embellishes some refrains. Pledge is more bombast than substance. The album is more varied than the previous two, but at the end the best moments are to be found in the Rundgren-ian musichall skit What I'm Looking For and in the boogie Between Us, that sounds like a more melodic version of the New York Dolls.

In 2006 Benson co-founded Raconteurs with Jack White of the White Stripes.

Distracted by the Raconteurs and relocated to Nashville, Benson released a collection of mediocre songs, My Old Familiar Friend (ATO, 2009), with few songs matching the old quality (A Whole Lot Better, Garbage Day).

His sound kept evolving and What Kind of World (2012) reached a new kind of eclectic maturity. What Kind of World is hard-rock half-way between Cheap Trick and David Bowie. The standout, The Light of Day, sounds like Tom Petty fronting the Velvet Underground. There are echoes of Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello in the bouncy Happy Most of the Time Bad for Me is even an impeccable imitation of Elton John, and On the Fence is an equally impeccable imitation of the country-gospel of the Band. Pretty Baby fuses chamber pop and noir atmosphere. Even the least accomplished of these melodies, like Keep Me and Come On, would be highlights on most power-pop albums. As usual, the second half of the album contains more fillers than keepers, down to the slow ballad No One Else But You with brass fanfare.

The 15-song You Were Right (2013) is instead another disappointment. The country influence can be felt in songs like Diamond and It's Your Choice, and most of the 15 songs are irrelevant anyway.

Benson's decline continued on Dear Life (Third Man, 2020), despite attempts to revitalize his music with the hysterical southern-rock of I Can If You Want Me To and the disco-pop of Good To Be Alive. Amidst a lot of derivative power-pop (like Dear Life), Benson nonetheless adds to little gems to his canon: the classy and catchy Half A Boy and especially the Richest Man, which grafts one of his glorious refrains as well as anthemic horns onto a ZZ Top-esque boogie.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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