Brendan Benson

My Old, Familiar Friend

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: ATO

Brendan Benson already has a successful solo career that has seen the release of three albums. He picked up a huge boost by becoming Jack White’s lieutenant in The Raconteurs, and after the release of Broken Boy Soldiers in 2006 and Consolers of the Lonely in 2008, the groundwork had been laid for Benson to make a run at a larger mainstream audience with My Old, Familiar Friend. It’s a power pop album with recognizable overtones, but contains a punch rarely matched in the last few years. Much like Ben Kweller’s later releases, Benson offers a heavy dose of familiar sounds, having melded them into a very American product.

In this post-Raconteurs release, Benson seized the opportunity to invest in production quality, using the talents of producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters and Gomez) to take off the DIY edge his previous albums possessed. The songwriting has become well-honed, expanding arrangements that are rooted in old, familiar musical tastes. Benson took the best musical elements of the past half century and put them into this album.

At first glance, I had a rather difficult time nailing down exactly who Benson was trying to sound like. Cheap Trick, ELO, the Cars and even Wings all make thematic appearances; “Garbage Day” features ELO’s soaring strings and solid keyboards, the sounds of Paul McCartney appears on “Gonowhere” and a piano-heavy Weezer plays on “Misery.” “Lessons Learned” could be the opening of a rock opera, laid back keys gently guiding the listener along. “Poised and Ready’s” rebellious punk rock attitude rouses one with heavy piano and deep caverns of space between notes.

For an album drenched with pop melodies, it does go by quickly. You do get the sense that if you don’t pay attention, you could miss it. The themes that Benson uses are in fact his old, familiar friend. Comforting and homey, it is based upon well-established music that people obviously like. Benson got the right people to help him create a polished sounding album that doesn’t go out on a limb, but is solid pop. While many people may have only come to know Brendan Benson over the past few years while under Jack White’s wing, My Old, Familiar Friend is an opportunity for many to realize Benson’s effect on The Raconteurs and vice versa.

by Nicholas Ryan
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