The Alternative To Love

Brendan Benson

V2 Records, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Brendan Benson doesn't do anything the simple way.

That much is clear when you consider the career of a guy whose previous two albums are both regarded as virtual lost classics, who was dropped by a major label (Virgin) only to be resigned eight years later, and whose intensely realized studio perfectionism doesn't really allow for the concept of deadlines.

Benson is a retrophile pop alchemist of the first order, the musical bastard son of Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Stevie Wonder and every great melodic Brit-rock band of the past forty years. He is also a studio experimentalist supreme, a self-producing virtual one-man band who calls for help only when he absolutely needs it, and decorates each song with layer upon layer of intriguing sonic strata, adding bells or percussion or warm synth textures to his core guitar crunch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Whether or not he is actually physically related to Lenny Kravitz, I will leave to others to determine. What he is, on The Alternative To Love, is a meticulous craftsman working in the medium of late '60s-early '70s classic rock.

Highlights include the sing-songy bells-and-guitars melody of "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)"; the smart-alecky lyric, power-pop rhythm and goofy retro synths of "Feel Like Myself"; the airy Supremes backbeat-and-tambourine opening to "The Pledge"; the supple piano-based melodies of "Biggest Fan"; and the brawny, Lennyesque guitar lines of "Between Us."

The title track is particularly appealing, opening acoustic before building nicely as musical details (bluesy rhythm guitar, layered harmony vocals, harmonica) are gradually added. The vocal is among his best as well, nimbly navigating a dense rumination on romantic failure that's full of witty rhymes.

In places Benson reminds me of Fountains Of Wayne in his dedication to craft and the variety of textures he adds to the basic paradigm of propulsive power-pop. What's missing for the most part is FoW's smirky sense of humor, and while Benson's general earnestness has its own appeal, my one criticism would be that he sometimes seems to be trying a little too obviously hard to be artful.

The Alternative To Love is a lovingly assembled disc populated with familiar but fresh arrangements and melodies that consistently entertain. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but it's an alternative well worth exploring.

Rating: B+

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© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of V2 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.