BRENDAN BENSON “What Kind Of World” (Readymade Records)
Brendan Benson has been a working musician since the mid 1990s.
By 2005 he had recorded three solo albums to critical acclaim and
minimal sales. His career got a huge shot in the arm when Jack White
enlisted Benson as co-pilot for his super-group/side project
The Raconteurs.
Along with sharing lead vocal duties, Benson and White co-wrote
all the songs on The Raconteurs two releases, “Broken Toy Soldiers” (2006)
and “Consolers Of The Lonely,” (2008). In fact The Raconteurs popularity
threatened to eclipse the success of White’s original band, White Stripes.
Benson’s solo sound hues closer to the Power Pop of the Raspberries and
Pure Pop of Todd Rundgren. With The Raconteurs on hiatus, Benson returned
to his solo career, releasing “My Old Familiar Friend” in 2009.
Taking a page from Rundgren’s D.I.Y. playbook, Benson’s newest
effort, “What Kind Of World” is self-produced. It is also the first release on
his own label, Readymade Records.
The album opens with the title track. Anchored by a steady beat,
tart guitar licks and laser-beam synths ricochet in and out of the melody. The
world-weary lyrics feel a commentary on the vagaries of the record industry:
“So looked over, So underrated, every move proves to be ill-fated…. I take it
too hard, what kind of world takes me apart before I can start?”
Self- doubt is a theme that courses through this record.
“Happy Most Of The Time,” marries whip-crack guitar riffs and a pummeling
backbeat with lyrics that catalog a litany of personal deficits.
Angsty lyrics couple with jittery instrumentation on “Thru The
Ceiling.” Sci-fi synths collide with a radioactive guitar solo.
Cloaked in a prickly melody, the lyrics of “Keep Me” have a
quirky, film-noir feel. Furtive and nocturnal, but mired in uncertainty:
“All of my life, all of the time, I’ve been cast out-left out/Kicked to the
curb only to hear a discouraging word.”
For the most part, “What Kind Of World” sticks to the Power Pop
sound that Benson has honed throughout his solo career. But he manages
to broaden his horizons on three songs: “Bad For Me” is a piano driven
ballad that echoes the wallowing excess of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”
and Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” The melodrama teeters on the precipice
of self- pity, but Benson reigns in the emotion on the soaring chorus.
“Met Your Match” is a kinetic workout connecting a relentless backbeat
and skittering guitars. This song has an 80s vibe that wouldn’t seem out
of place on an Oingo Boingo record.
Finally, “No One Else But You” pivots between Bacharach-y sweetness
and a crunchy, horn-powered chorus. The lyrics detail a romance gone awry.
The best tracks on “What Kind Of World” are “Here In The
Deadlights” and “Come On.” A tale of romantic betrayal, the former opens
with chicken-scratch guitar and other-worldly organ fills. The instrumentation
snakes through a sweet-sour melody accelerating to a chaotic conclusion.
The latter is a crackling rocker that revs up like a souped-up Muscle Car.
Strafing guitar riffs ping pong between circuitous bass lines and pounding percussion.
Other stand out tracks include “Light Of Day,” a chunky
stop-go tribute to the Cars’ “Candy O” era and the spectral “Pretty Baby.”
The album closes with “On The Fence.” Strumming acoustic guitars
and an old time Player Piano buoy this playful ode to indecision:
“Never been a fighter or a lover, never thought that either made much
sense/Can’t decide on this side or another, so I just live my life sitting
on the fence.” Seems like an apt anthem in this election year!
Benson tackles most of the instrumentation here, but the
sound is filled out by Ken Stringfellow on keys and bass and Jon Auer on
guitar and bass. (Both were in the early 90s Seattle band the Posies).
Brad Pemberton, formerly of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, handles drums,
and Ashley Monroe chimes in on backup vocals.
“What Kind Of World” is Benson’s most assured effort to date,
blending sharp concise and catchy melodies with introspective lyrics.
The best of both worlds.


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