Brendan Benson, recently of The Raconteurs, is a gifted singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Michigan whose work is a blend of solid, edgy power pop and alternative rock.
What Kind of World is Benson’s fifth album; self-produced in Nashville with a host of collaborators.
Benson’s vocal presence is pleasingly neutral, or inoffensive and user-friendly. He doesn’t seem capable of hitting bad notes, and favours a clean and high delivery. This characteristic doesn’t mean dull – far from it. It’s just not one of those weird voices that become an acquired taste.
There’s a long list of musicians here; many of them former cohorts, that give this album of well-crafted melodic songs a warm “band” vibe.
Bad For Me has the classic contours of a love-gone-bad song but is given the bittersweet twist of acceptance and surrender.
Speaking of classic sounds, this album is bursting with them. On the title track, Benson sings “What kind of world, Will take me apart, Before I can start? What kind of world?” over a driving power pop progression that dovetails into a ringing crescendo. Almost too good for radio, it wears the pop tag solely on the appeal of the vocal hooks which Benson seems to drop effortlessly everywhere. He also applies that sensibility to On the Fence, a happy Stones-style hillbilly song celebrating laziness and indifference.
Along with melodic appeal, there are strong currents of darkness that run through What Kind of World that add pleasant stirrings of unrest. This yin and yang is a heady and attractive mix and has potent tracks of highlight.
Thru the Ceiling has a startling uneasy chord pattern and Here in the Deadlights boasts a crawling Damned-style guitar riff under a high, edgy vocal. The spookiest track is Pretty Baby – a murder ballad that’s enhanced by a southern gothic betrayal theme.
This album has songs that creep with the element of surprise – tracks to burn on for a long time to come.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a guitarist and music reviewer with The Morning Star. His column appears every Friday.