Brendan Benson My Old, Familiar Friend Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A noble attempt to merge spiky, unassuming indie into joyous vintage pop.

Colin Irwin 2009

The chilly shadow that comes with being Jack White’s best mate will always be met by dismissive sneers in some quarters – but it does have its merits.

Three solo albums of well-crafted garage pop saw Benson plod steadily into respected obscurity before he was summoned to join the White Stripes man’s latest rock'n'roll plaything, The Raconteurs. Hard-riffing Led Zeppelin fantasies now fulfilled, the Michigan singer-songwriter returns to the day job as a wistful troubadour of bitter sweet 60s heartbreak, and with mixed results.

This time the mild air of DIY scuzz drowns in a sea of lush, crisp production as an unashamedly opulent search for surf-rock perfection begins. Rich harmonies collide, glistening guitar tones crunch and jangle and dreamy romances are blown up into grand, kitchen-sink operas. Sadly, though, the drift from retro Teenage Fanclub melodies into a pedestrian middle-of-the-road chug sucks the life out of the great moments of flippant power-pop. As drab, wallowing balladry and drudging rhythms take hold, even Benson himself seems bored by the aptly titled Beatles dirge Gonowhere.

With Benson neither a melancholy dreamer like Elliott Smith, nor a jaunty genius like Edwyn Collins, My Old, Familiar Friend is bereft of a distinct personality that you can love, hate or even barely notice. What he does have in abundance, however, is a sharp ear, a head full of hooks and a hefty supply of killer one-liners that baffle, charm and touch. “If she throws her heart away / I’ll be there on garbage day / To sift through what’s left, I guess / To sort through the loneliness" is particularly telling.

Striking the perfect marriage between the thundering grime of his Detroit past and his love of soaring, head-bobbing infectiousness, Poised and Ready triumphs as a rush of snarling fuzz, delivered with a sugar-coated glaze. The raucous, rumbling sprawl of Borrow should please Raconteurs fans, while Eyes on the Horizon probably has the best chance of charming radio’s tastemakers.

All told, this is a noble attempt to merge spiky, unassuming indie into joyous vintage pop; but Benson shouldn’t lose White’s phone number just yet.

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