At his best, Brendan Benson writes the sort of power pop you could calibrate atomic clocks to. “A Whole Lot Better,” the lead cut on his 2009 effort My Old Familiar Friend, features some stunt pilot-style guitar riffs and basslines, all leading to what amounts the best in Chilton-esque pop sloganeering — “I fell in love with you/ and out of love with you/and back in love with you all in the same day.”
Benson’s latest, What Kind of World, also starts strong with the winning title cut, which follows the same game plan with a bright chorus (“You take me apart/ Before I can start“) beaming through some layered, squashed guitars. It’s easily one of Benson’s best songs, Raconteurs albums included. You would think an opening that strong bodes well for the remaining songs, but what follows is an uneven effort that lacks the hooks which made its predecessor such a stolen `78
Promising songs such as “Happy Most of the Time,” start strong and then tend boogie into nowhere. The country album closer, “On the Fence,” tends toward pastiche and cliché — a fence as a metaphor for indecision, really? That’s not to say Benson, released an album full of dogs. Apart from the title cut, “What Kind of World,” there’s the new wave “Met Your Match,” which is a sub-three minute guitar chop over some gloriously cheeseball synths. The breathy and desperate “Keep Me,” which has Benson’s best and sexiest vocal on the album will no doubt earn a spot on someone’s “Take me back, please” mixtape.
In all, it feels like Benson recorded his stopgap album, with ideas that don’t quite hit the mark, but could lead to greatness on the next record. Let’s hope so, he’s easy to cheer for.
Stream: Brendan Benson – “Bad For Me”