Brendan Benson isn’t a star, sadly. He’s a diminutive guy in a white T-shirt and a low-key demeanor, who just happens to have prolific songwriting abilities and prodigious musical talent. If life were fair, that would be enough to appeal to teen girls, the boys that want to impress them, both sets of their mothers and perhaps their mothers’ mothers. Why the music-buying public has never recognized his particular brand of rock prowess via actual dollars spent is a matter of many indie rock geeks’ late night discussions.
It only takes one listen to his new What Kind of World to ponder yet again why Brendan Benson still exists as an object of adoration for power-pop aficionados, and not a swoon-worthy pop idol.
Both delicate and heavy, alternately sweet and sly, Benson’s 5th solo release showcases what he does best in nearly every track. Opening with the title track, which features a decidedly 80s vibe with power-chords a-plenty and an apparent question about this thankless land where he still hasn’t gotten the demi-god status he so deserves. His relatively new role as father has seemingly allowed some personal vulnerability to creep into his songs –he quickly lets us know that “I take it too hard”……What kind of world takes me apart before I can start?”
The initial standout track and “single” (whatever that means at this point?) is the anthem-like “Bad for Me,” showcasing both the quiet and sublime. The piano-driven beginning leads into a full-on orchestral chorus, which has a distinctly Elton John vibe to it (and that’s not a jab). Lyrically, he’s beating himself up again, this time for courting the wrong woman: “Maybe she is bad for me, but I don’t care to see, because what I want and what I need are the same to me.” Listen to this song twice and guaranteed it will be stuck in your head for days.
What kind of World features Brendan’s pals from The Posies, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (a virtuoso songwriting/fuzzy guitar duo in their own right), as well as Brad Pemberton (of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals), Mark Watrous (Gosling, Loudermilk) and Sam Farrar (Phantom Planet). The album was recorded in two separate and distinct sessions, but still manages to pull off a cohesive feel.
Five solo releases in 16 years isn’t a prolific output, but Benson has kept plenty busy with his collaborative effort in The Raconteurs (with the perhaps too-well-lauded Jack White, whose reflected glory brought a brief modicum of recognition for Benson), as well as his job as producer and now label owner label of Readymade Records. Benson finally has a platform to sell and market his own music, instead of being continually picked up by labels (excited A & R!) and dropped (you still didn’t sell enough stuff, even though we made you those cool 11 x 13 posters for ‘indie retail’!).
You can order your copy of What Kind of World exclusively on BrendanBenson.com on April 21st, which is, perhaps ironically, “Record Store Day,” but you’ll have to wait until the 24th to get it in a store. Catch him on tour in May with Young Hines, the first signing to Readymade (check out his release, available now) and The Howling Brothers.
Whether Benson will ever gain the star power his talent demands is questionable, but as long as he keeps writing and recording, we’ll be happy to keep him for ourselves a little while longer.