Brendan Benson: Dear Life (Third Man Records)

Power-pop polymath resumes his solo career with a loved-up collection that's (mostly) full of the joys of spring

Released Apr 24th, 2020 via Third Man / By Ben Wood
Brendan Benson: Dear Life (Third Man Records) Brendan Benson is in a good mood, and it's easy to see why. Still enviably youthful-looking (in a suitably rumpled rock 'n roll way), his career is established enough for him to flit merrily between his roles as solo artist, producer, collaborator and Raconteur as it suits him.

Numerologists will be delighted to know that his seventh solo album (on buddy and bandmate Jack White's Third Man Records) comes after a seven-year gap. And he sounds like a happy bunny ('I got two beautiful babies / and one hell of a good-looking wife', he exults on Richest Man). These tunes portray a man who, in the main, seems to have located the perfect balance between a happy family life and fun-loving, risk-taking rock 'n rollness. Although the title (also implying 'Hanging on for...'), is wisely hedging its bets.

While the PR bumf trumpets Dear Life as a groovy, eclectic, beat-smeared step forward, this is pushing it somewhat. OK, while he may have spent studio time getting stoned, sampling weird noises and making the odd beat (he recorded most of this himself), this is not a Screamadelica-style reinvention. BB is very good at crafting catchy, conventionally structured power-pop with loadsa hooks, nifty lyrics and great big massive choruses. He would be a fool to veer too far from the format. He's not... and he doesn't.

Nevertheless, there are still lots of interesting things going on in this record. Many tunes, such as opener I Can If You Want Me To, start off with a surprising texture (often electronic or reminiscent of future R&B) before rockier tendencies intervene.

However, unlike his toon-packed 2002 opus Lapalco, the album doesn't quite live up to its thrilling opening gambits. The first four songs showcase Benson's ability to pack a song with a staggering amount of melodic ideas. However, the album then dips somewhat before it ends on a high.

Conceptually, it's intriguingly sequenced - front-loaded with hymns to the joys of family life (Good to be Alive, Richest Man Alive), followed by a couple of paeans to hard living and unsuitable women (Freak Out, Evil Eyes) before ending on a note of uncertainty. Intriguing...

Brendan has the eternal teenager's fondness for interrupting things with a dirty great riff, as on the opener. In almost every way, he is quintessentially American - the sunny positivity and unabashed fondness for an anthem, coexisting happily with a sharp intelligence, reminding us that, like Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, this stuff can appeal to nerds and Joe Sixpack alike.

The better parts of this album represent a possible, Beck-esque way forward for this high - level musical craftsman, whose uncanny melodic gift means he couldn't make a bad record if he tried. Ultimately, it can't keep up the promise of its opening salvo, but as ever with a Brendan Benson album, there is plenty to enjoy here. 7/10