Brendan Benson – What Kind of WorldPosted by Justin Spicer
The journey Brendan Benson has taken to reach What Kind of World–his fifth solo album—is a fantastical one. The man has long been in the shadow of others; unwittingly to other pop musicians with just a bit more cache and PR muscle, or willingly as a member of The Raconteurs with buddy Jack White. It’s led to many false starts for a career that seemed uncompromisingly promised with the release of 1996’s One Mississippi and renewed with the commercial appeal of 2000’s Lapalco.
Yet it’s 2012 and Benson finds himself without a label or the press clippings of similar power pop idols Matthew Sweet and once-collaborator and friend, Jason Falkner. But Benson is undeterred—he’s made the right move by beginning his own label (Readymade) and returning to power pop’s rustic roots with What Kind of World.
The only issue tripping up Benson is What Kind of World suffers from the same hiccups that have pocked his 16 year career. Now in his forties, Benson’s vision is beginning to show its age and his fifth album pays the price of old ideas never reaching fruition. What Kind of World stumbles out the gates with the rhythmic but stale title track and flimsy torch song, “Bad for Me.” “What Kind of World” waffles under Benson’s mixed intentions: “I’m just trying to get something started/Been so low and so downhearted/Haven’t seen my friends in awhile/And I never laugh or hardly ever smile.” Benson’s esteem is low, yielding diminishing returns on the minimal but impactful drum intro. When “What Kind of World” kicks into high gear—or at least attempts to—it falls on its face; a half-hearted attempt to get moving from his slumped position.
“Light of Day” proves What Kind of World’s legitimate introduction. It’s nothing more than a few strummed chords, evocatively delivered with the passion Benson once displayed effortlessly before it was beaten out by four failed career launches. Bigger to the album’s picture, “Light of Day” finds Benson embracing the darker side without abandoning the catchy melodies of his early critical successes: “Candlelight upon your face/And in darkness is the safest place/I don’t care if I ever see the light of day.”
Rather than emerge from the bottomless pit of failure, Benson begins to succumb to it. He does occasionally put up a fight, but by the time Benson reaches “Thru the Ceiling,” surrender is complete. His battle to escape is not from the despair of failure, but from past expectations: “I wanna run/I wanna run but I got no traction/So I kick and I scream/But I get no reaction.” Imbued with his newfound darkness and reticent that only those who should matter are paying attention, Benson turns to intuition rather than brawn to break the stop-start cycle: “Thought of a way out/And I’m reeling/Just gonna fall out/A crack in the ceiling,” By giving into the bleakness of his career, Benson is born anew from the man who existed at the beginning of What Kind of World. Confessional finale “No One Else but You” washes the blood of perceived transgressions from Benson’s hands, wrapped in a towel heavy with All Things Must Pass sentimentality and melody.
What Kind of World isn’t perfect but it shouldn’t be. Benson’s been fighting himself for so long, falling into the same traps set before him album after album. No one will confuse What Kind of World for One Mississippi or Lapalco and that’s the way it should be. Benson coming out of the other side with renewed vigor to prove everyone wrong without compromise or expectation is worthy enough cause. It’s been simmering below the surface these past few years, but power pop’s old guard is beginning to reanimate and Benson’s What Kind of World leads with its spear point rather than falling on it.