Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Album Review: Lapalco

Six years after his debut One Mississippi, New York resident Brendan Benson returns with a charming, witty and heartfelt twelve-strong collection of songs. Those who enjoyed One Mississippi will know that the basis of Benson's charm is his simple lyrical innocence coupled with a home-grown musical sophistication, his love of rhymes that can make you groan and smile simultaneously.

Benson's odd addiction to rhyming is what makes this album so delightful. Never is this better highlighted than onFolk Singer where Benson reminisces, "Every girl that I made in the shade of the Esplanade / I've saved in a song that I play when I'm afraid of a full-scale air raid from the choices that I've made." The chorus is equally ludicrous, "Every single day at eleven I'm home in bed in sleep heaven alone, cos my girl leaves at seven / Ain't got time for my bed-in, she said stop pretending, you're not John Lennon." All nonsense of course, but delivered so well, it becomes charming and not annoying.

The album begins with the very catchy Tiny Spark, co-written with friend and studio whiz Jason Falkner. It's a fine example of the naivety that endears Benson to the listener. The upbeat tempo is at odds with the lyrical bewilderment, yet the contrast works from the very first listen. Elsewhere What is a winning track that tells the tale of a man usurped by another who sees his ex laugh at the same jokes and fall for the same tricks that he once used. Eventually examines the way that relationships alter our behaviour, as Benson ponders what he has wrought upon his girl, yet he still makes a plea for her to stick with him through the promise that things will get better.

Personally, the stand out track on the album is the heartbreaking Metarie. Here Benson plays it straight as he meditates on a lost love. It's the only track on the album that has Benson truly depressed as he confesses, "If I had a life, I'd put it in my song." There is a pared-down version of the track lurking after the album has finished, which while more intimate is slightly less powerful.

Other highlights include the synth-driven You're Quiet, which gives another illustration of Benson's witty choruses, "I've been a little bit down on my luck / I think you know where I'm coming from / I need a pickup and I don't mean truck / I think you know where to get some." On Good To Me Benson discusses the merits of his humble but reliable car (a 1980 Volvo he tells us, not a vintage Cadillac), his amplifier (A beat-up Supro amp not a Fender Tweed Deluxe) and, somewhat predictably, his girlfriend. I'm Easy is an immaculate upbeat guitar-driven rocker.

Benson concludes the album with Jetlag, a candid lashing out against the whole showbiz thing. As is the case with most of Benson's work, this is obviously written from his experiences with record labels as he tells us sarcastically that, "the boy has got the magic touch and he can't ever lose."

Benson's style is difficult to appreciate immediately, but given repeated listens, Lapalco is an entirely refreshing bittersweet collection.

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