x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Brendan Benson's What Kind of World is a perfectly pleasant but creatively conservative album

The songs from Benson's fifth album are polished and melodic, but essentially generic jukebox Americana.

Brendan Benson
What Kind of World
(Lojinx)
***

It may be pure coincidence that Benson's fifth album arrives the same week as the belated solo debut by his fellow Detroit native, the Nashville resident and Raconteurs member Jack White. Either way, comparisons are inevitable and not exactly flattering. Where White sets up a kind of impassioned, inspired, spiky dialogue with his retro-rock influences, Benson favours laid-back immersion in them. The early standout track here is Bad for Me, a lush, soft-rock power ballad of piano and strings, lovesick sadness and windswept defiance that invokes a classic lineage of 1970s singer-songwriters such as Harry Nilsson and Wings-era Paul McCartney. Another highlight is No One Else But You, a wistful weepie that blossoms into a brassy, uplifting affirmation of love. Benson also ends the album on a high with On the Fence, a warm-blooded honky-tonk duet which subverts the traditions of self-aggrandising country-rock lyrics, instead celebrating its feckless narrator's lukewarm indecision and lack of ambition. Sadly, between these sparse peaks lies rather too much gently rolling, nondescript musical terrain. From jingle-jangle saloon-bar chuggers such as Light of Day and Crack in the Ceiling, to the sharp-edged powerpop gallops Keep Me and Come On – all polished and melodic, but essentially generic jukebox Americana. Like countless musicians before him, Benson is so much in thrall to the official canon of British and American rock greats that he cannot see beyond their rule book, preferring to simply rehash rather than reinvent. The result is a perfectly pleasant but creatively conservative album, low on originality or charisma.