Album review

Brendan Benson - Alternative To Love

Brendan Benson - Alternative To Love

The White Stripes have already covered "Good To Me", a stand-out from Brendan Benson’s 2002 album, Lapalco. Now, Jack White is apparently recording Elephant’s follow-up at Benson’s home studio in Detroit, and there’s a joint Benson/White venture slated for next year, trailed as Cat Stevens-meets-Led Zep.

It’s easy to see why White is so keen. Benson’s glittering pop songs are descendants of every boy-girl psychodrama from The Beach Boys to Big Star. But, much like their predecessors, there’s a damaged undertow. The caffeinated rush of 2002’s Lapalco – five years in the making - belied a tortuous major label experience in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when Benson was dropped from Virgin after the release of debut One Mississippi. Hauling himself back home to Detroit from LA, he poured his insecurities into a fistful of irresistible tunes. Lapalco’s critical success was testament to both his self-belief and staying power.

Similarly, Alternative To Love is impossible not to love. With only longtime bandmates Matt Aljian and Chris Plum on board – alongside mixer and co-producer Tchad Blake – it’s a jubilee of full-fat riffs, nagging hooks and melodies like ornate sugar sculptures. Lyrically though, it remains troubled. "I Feel Like Myself Again" may appear to be a joyous rebirth from romantic wreckage, but it’s more likely a riposte to old record company execs or even the father that abandoned him. Likewise, the Spectoresque "Pledge And Allegiance" is no lover’s entreaty, but seems to be a loyalty pact between Benson and music itself: it’s clear he’s in it for the duration. The downbeat acoustic shuffle of "Them And Me" reinforces the point, his own third-party muse urging him on: "Isn’t this everything you ever wanted?" Yes, but there’s a price.

At times – as on "What I’m Looking For" - he sounds like Evan Dando offering confessions at Gold Star Studios. At others, as on the grandly ambitious mini-suite "Flesh And Bone", like Brian Wilson himself. In a just world, he’d be huge. Wouldn’t that be nice?

By Rob Hughes

Rating: 4 / 10

V2 Records


Editor's Letter

The 40th Uncut Playlist Of 2014

A glut of very exciting 2015 music this week, but before you get to that, maybe check out the Milton Nascimento track below which, as KidVinil Vinil pointed out in the comments section beneath...