Music Reviews
My Old Familiar Friend

Brendan Benson My Old Familiar Friend

(ATO Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

A re-visit to Brendan Benson’s 2002 LP Lapalco last year on holiday was an odd experience. What felt like a refreshing and vibrant album six years previously became, upon re-listening, dated, turgid and utterly uninspiring. It wasn’t anything like I remembered, but then I realised that I was only seventeen when it came out, I haven’t liked near enough anything he has realised since, both as a solo artist or any of his work with The Raconteurs. Then it dawned on me, that perhaps Benson is, well, just not that good. Here stands a perfect opportunity to prove me wrong.

Opener A Whole Lot Better does nothing to reignite the spark. Its regurgitated guitar work wouldn’t feel out of place on a Jet record. The problem that emerges almost instantly is that the record feels youthful, naive and at times almost exuberant, yet when it is seeping from a man pushing forty years old it’s a little hard to swallow. This isn’t to say that men of that age can’t be youthful or create enthusiastic music of course, but the fervour associated with young, carefree music is sincerely lacking, making it feel somewhat vacuous and empty.

Eyes On The Horizon continues in a similar vain. It really struggles to surpass anything that could be described as anything more than average or adequate. The song feels dated almost immediately, it essentially feels like average brit-pop music being created a decade or so too late. As the album progresses it feels almost irrelevant to pick out specific songs, as they blur into a collective merge of mediocrity. Some of the song structures and progressions are no different to some industry penned number that any TV boy band can be heard wailing from radio 1 or a packed out stadium somewhere. Of course Benson isn’t at the sub-par, sub-scum level of the aforementioned but it’s just so frustrating to hear an album so steeped in flat, lifeless generic songs that you feel the need to lash out.

I’ve spoken of outdated songs on the record; now, whether Feel like taking you home is an attempt to encompass the modern inclusion of synthesisers in mid-tempo indie-rock, I don’t know? But all it succeeds in doing is making it feel even less relevant. Remember the Bravery and how unnecessary they were? Well, Benson appears to have co-written a song with them here. The lyrics are so substandard they aren’t really worth repeating or discussing, a man of Benson’s age you would hope might have something to say, some reflections of sort, something that extends past an adolescent-like approach. But this never happens, which coincided with the almost constant Beatles' rip-off’s on the slower songs, makes it a rather nauseating ride at times. The album begins to feel very much like the ‘Weezer effect‘, in that never growing up or really progressing or developing doesn’t always work and that bit by bit it taints what was a staple part of your youth.

One thing that becomes apparent from the album that perhaps puts Benson in his place in terms of song writing is that the entire record feels like it has been done very similarly already by people such as Ben Kweller, Adam Green and to an extent My Morning Jacket; yet they did it all in their early twenties and with a far superior sense of urgency, freshness and innovativeness.

The album embodies filler on many levels, its mediocrity transcends: Not only does the music feel like filler and lacking in substance but the album itself feels like it’s only purpose is to merely keep music ticking over until something worthwhile comes along. I can’t think of an album I have listened to in recent memory that will be as instantly forgotten within a matter of months as this.

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