Brendan Benson The Alternative To Love

[V2; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie rock, alt. pop, singer-songwriter
Others: Heatmiser, Sloan, Ben Kweller, Badly Drawn Boy

Brendan Benson is pretty much one of those reclusive genius/prodigy types. In his teens, the part Michigan, part Louisiana native spent his time overdubbing track by track on an everyday home stereo. The product of these sessions met with some LA studio time at the hands of Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, The Jayhawks) and Jellyfish's Jason Falkner to create Benson's 1996 debut One Mississippi. But, thanks to Virgin's lack of foresight and testicular fortitude, the album failed to truly break and Benson returned to Detroit. There he used his second album advance to fill out a vintage [read: used] house studio. Six years later, his sophomore album Lapalco made him a critic's darling with an overflowing cult following. He made a little cash and bought some new equipment. And so here we are.

I have found in my many skeptical years that success almost as a law breeds complacency and, to an extent, you can see that here. Don't get me wrong, Benson can write some very catchy tunes and flowing melodies with seaming ease, but it seems more than anything else that his lyrics have taken a bit of a turn for the bland. Lapalco simply had more of an edge to it with lines like "If hell does exist then the Devil's a scientist/ finding a cure" while The Alternative To Love appears mired in love with unalternative couplets like "Cold hands, warm heart/ We just need some time apart." Perhaps I am unknowingly plagued with selective hearing, but I miss the more sparsely layered subtlety of the musical arrangements and Elliott Smith-like moments frequented on Lapalco. Alternative's tracks are all pretty busy from the get go. But regardless of my preferences, I believe The Alternative To Love to be a quality rock album that covers several genres in influence and doesn't deserve to be punished for not being as good as its predecessor. Really, you'd be pretty well off to get both.

1. Spit It Out
2. Cold Hands (Warm Heart)
3. Feel Like Myself
4. The Alternative To Love
5. The Pledge
6. Them And Me
7. Biggest Fan
8. Flesh And Bone
9. Get It Together
10. Gold Into Straw
11. What I'm Looking For
12. Between Us

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