Album Review: Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

by Tony Butterworth on August 5, 2009

Who knows what this cover represents

Who knows what this cover represents

I’m a big Brendan Benson fan. I was a fan before The Raconteurs. Lapalco being one of my all time favorite albums but I was not overly happy with his last album, The Alternative To Love, which had its moments but was, overall, somewhat inconsistent.  So how does his new one My Old, Familiar Friend stack up.  Keep in mind that this review is all based on a first listen and of course songs may grow or otherwise on me given time.  So what has spending his time with Jack White done for Brendan?

The album opens really brightly with “Whole Lot Better,” a perfect slice of power pop pie.  A fantastic double hook lyric and chorus.  This is followed by “Eyes on The Horizon,” the verse on this was less appealing and a definite “oh no” passed through my head, but the chorus is stunningly good, making the wait through the verse more than worthwhile, in the end, though, the rest of the song–including a rather disappointing coda–let the whole thing down.

Next is “Garbage Day.” This starts with, and includes at key points, some atypical MOR strings.  Somehow I found the strings distracting from the song and in the end had a hard time finding it’s essence.  I actually think it’s pretty good but it’s somehow a difficult listen, just not a style I was expecting.  Then we move on to “Gonowhere” (interesting spelling) starting with an odd sounding, and again out of place seeming, analog synth this appears to be another very simple soft rock song, at this point I’m thinking Brendan is lacking the edge I’ve heard in his older music, perhaps Jack White has softened him up.  As with many songs these days, this somehow seems too long and I find that I’ve stopped listening 2/3 of the way through.

“Feel Like Taking You Home” starts with a strangely played electric piano and some vocals, it picks up to a driving beat, definitely different than the last couple of songs, but in some strange way, change the production and you have a Britney Spears song (give it a listen and you might see what I mean).  “You Make a Fool of Me” starts with a more comfortable acoustic guitar and piano feel, it’s a simple but enjoyable song, but once again strings appear 1/3 of the way through.  I’m sorry but strings do not belong this prominently on a Brendan Benson album.

“Poised and Ready” is more what I like and expect from Mr Benson: good vocals, nice melody and guitars and a rock beat.  Basic stuff but I like it.  Same with “Don’t Want To Talk,” which has a bouncing beat, interesting lyrics and guitars.  “Misery” continues the enjoyable trend, a little slower and features some wonderful doo-doo style backing vocals but it’s all guitars, melodies and harmonies.

“Lesson Learned” changes things up a bit, a simple electric piano riff underpins a slower song, the absence of strings however keeps this one on the level and enjoyable.  Last song on the album is “Borrow”, another rocker, though lacking a clear hook.

On a first listen, I like it but it’s not blown me away, it lacks any really memorable songs, except perhaps for the opener “Whole Lot Better” and I’m not highly motivated to listen again.  Often this is a sign of a grower rather than one that will flame out in my listening world, time will tell.

The album is currently streaming on NPR.   My Old Familiar Friend on NPR

My Old, Familiar Friend will be released on Aug. 18.

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Tony also podcasts about songwriting at www.homemadehitshow.com

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Reed August 12, 2009 at 10:53 am

I think that the evolution of an artist is important. Strings are a new thing for Brendan but not for pop music. Brendan is still in these songs. I really enjoyed the new sound he has come up with. And I also look forward to where he goes next.

Reply

Tony August 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Thanks for the comment. My issue is not with the use of strings it’s that they were used badly. Too loud and seemingly randomly placed at times.

I didn’t hear much evolution in this album.

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