If you had come to me a few months ago and said that a member of The Raconteurs was going to release a new album in April that would see so many spins on my iPod I’d be embarrassed, I would have naturally thought you were talking about Jack White. If you then corrected me and said that you were referring to Brendan Benson, AKA the other guy, I probably would have punched you in the throat (in this scenario I’m imagining you as a man without glasses). Now that I’ve heard both solo albums from the bandmates, I’d like to apologize for the hypothetical whupping.
I feel kinda bad for people in bands with Jack White. Even though I know better, I always think of them as glorified sidemen to White’s genius. Having gone over Benson’s new album now roughly fifty times, I can guarantee you he was no sideman. If anything I make him and White equals in The Raconteurs, maybe even giving Benson the majority of the credit.
Some of you may already know Benson’s solo work. He’s been recording albums since the late 90’s, but never really broke through to the mainstream. The closest he came was in 2004, when his song “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” was used in the Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston rom-com Along Came Polly. That film, perhaps more famously, also introduced the world to the term “sharted.” (please check urban dictionary for definition, as this is a family-friendly site, mostly)
What Kind Of World was released on April 21 of this year on Benson’s own Readymade Records. After being signed to various major labels throughout the years, he decided it best to just go it alone. A wise choice, in my mind, as he could take whatever time he needed to make the record he really wanted. He produced the album himself, and brought in bluegrass singer Ashley Monroe (who worked with The Raconteurs on “Old Enough”) to collaborate on the song “On The Fence.”
When I first popped the album on, I had no idea what I was in for. To say that Brendan Benson is a fan of Todd Rundgren and The Kinks would be akin to saying I like cheeseburgers. The influence of 70’s AM radio and power pop is draped all over this record, and I love every second of it. What Kind Of World is one of those records where every individual song could be a single. Each one better than the next.
My favorite tunes are when he goes really Rundgren-particularly “No One Else But You.” He’s got a soft confidence in his voice that can sometimes sound a bit whiny. On this track he uses that to lay down the groundwork before destroying it with horns and loud guitars that turn the song into an arena rock anthem.
On “Bad For Me” Benson laments his poor decision making:
“Well here it goes again, another losing streak. Guess I’m on a roll. And I haven’t got a chance, I’m too weak. She sucks my soul. And this St Christopher that hangs around my neck has got to be a fake. Cause I crash every time, the same old wreck. The same mistake.”
It’s a solid song about letting your heart guide you in directions your brain knows are wrong.
Benson is a brilliant lyricist and equally strong composer of songs. His understanding of how music works is astounding. What Kind Of World may not get the press that Blunderbuss has received, but it is the better record.
The US leg of Benson’s tour begins in June and swings through Chicago on 6/28 at Lincoln Hall (recently named by CNN as one of the top ten music venues in the country). I’ll be there, and hope to see everyone out supporting Brendan’s talent.