Another quality release
Brendan Benson is one of those musicians who’s always been mischaracterized. Many people first heard of him as the co-lead singer of The Raconteurs, a group he started with Jack White of the White Stripes, and only think of him as ‘the other guy’ in that band. However, thinking this is a big mistake. White may be more of a household name in music, but Benson contributes just as much to the band’s writing and singing, and the several critically acclaimed solo albums under his belt show that he doesn’t need any help to create quality songs.
After the Raconteurs went on hiatus in 2011, Benson returned to solo work, releasing his fifth and sixth albums, What Kind of World and You Were Right, in 2012 and 2013, respectively. After a Raconteurs reunion and new studio album in 2019, Benson has released a new album of his own, titled Dear Life, in April 2020.
Benson bills the album as “his most inventive and upbeat work so far” on his Spotify page, which is a colossal accomplishment considering the fact that his songwriting is already some of the most inventive on the scene. His roots are in power pop, and the Raconteurs’ work channels a mix of classic and garage rock, but those merely serve as bases for the multitude of ideas, especially on Dear Life.
The album’s opener is “I Can If You Want Me To,” a short and sweet Led Zeppelin-style foot-stomper. After that comes “Good to Be Alive,” a spacey mix of modern reverb-drenched indie and Adele piano hits. The rest of the album’s songs occupy various points on this spectrum. The hardest rockers include “Half A Boy (Half A Man)” and “Freak Out,” while slightly more melodic tracks can be found in the form of “Rich Man,” “I Quit” and closer “Who’s Gonna Love You?” The best track is “Baby’s Eyes,” which fuse sunny harmonies and acoustic guitars with driving drums and an unexpected horn section.
Benson’s one knock, if you can consider it a knock, is that he’s always been more of a musician’s musician. While his compositions are loved and respected by his peers, they’ve always been a little too eccentric for mainstream ears. Obviously, he shouldn’t be obligated to water down his writing to try and score a few radio hits, but objectively Dear Life isn’t going to be a chart-topper. That being said, just because a song sells doesn’t mean it’s ‘better’ than one that doesn’t. No matter how much of a dent in the market Dear Life makes, it’s a fun album full of quality songs, and Benson once again can add another great release to his repertoire.