ALBUMS: Brendan Benson Excises His Emotions

New Album Dear Life is driven and determined 

Brendan Benson Dear Life, Third Man 2020

Artist: Brendan Benson

Album: Dear Life

Label: Third Man Records

★★★★ 1/2 (4.5/5 stars)


Despite a steady presence and a career that now spans 25 years, Brendan Benson remains something of an enigma.

Even with seven solo albums to his name, charter membership in the sometime alt supergroup The Raconteurs, and ongoing projects with various musicians that make up his ever broadening circle of friends, his own intents are still somewhat elusive. He’s one of those artists who can be counted on to make reliable records of an indie variety, but aside from the most occasional encounters, his work has yet to make a decided impact on the musical mainstream.

That’s not to his detriment however. He can be consistently counted on for an intriguing output, a creative credibility he corralled early on. Likewise, his determination to challenge his audience is never in question, given his rapturous intents, guitar-driven fanfare and a certain mystique that lurks in the far corners of his songs.

 

VIDEO: Brendan Benson “Richest Man”

It ought to come as no surprise then that Dear Life takes those elements to further extremes, resulting in an album that takes listeners by their collars, symbolically at least, and practically shakes them into submission. The decidedly dense textures that color the album early on — evidenced in the turbulent tones of “I Can If You Want Me To,” the determined “Good To Be Alive” and the frenetic “Freak Out” — find Benson on a tear, one that’s both caustic and chaotic. If one was willing to probe deeply into his psyche, it might be concluded that he’s passive aggressive, particularly as it applies to the aforementioned “I Can If You Want Me To” and the bitter barbs slung about in “I Quit,” which finds him futilely declaring, “Every time I try to do good, I make it worse.” If his intent was to declare himself a frustrated martyr, it’s clear he’s succeeding. 

Still, there’s a danger that’s induced anytime an artist opts to take himself too seriously. Thankfully, Benson still manages to stir his admirers into a frenzy while also allowing them to cling to every chorus. The robust revelry of “Richest Man” and the effusive energy of “I’m In Love” assure a compelling connection. He conveys kind of a wink and a nod, hinting that for all his frantic fanfare, a riveting refrain is still his primary concern.

That said, aside from certain songs, Dear Life may take more than a single listen to fully sink in. Of course that’s to be expected. Aren’t the things most dear well worth some perseverance?

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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