The chilly shadow that comes with being Jack White’s best mate will always be met by dismissive sneers in some quarters – but it does have its merits.
Three solo albums of well-crafted garage pop saw Benson plod steadily into respected obscurity before he was summoned to join the White Stripes man’s latest rock'n'roll plaything, The Raconteurs. Hard-riffing Led Zeppelin fantasies now fulfilled, the Michigan singer-songwriter returns to the day job as a wistful troubadour of bitter sweet 60s heartbreak, and with mixed results.
This time the mild air of DIY scuzz drowns in a sea of lush, crisp production as an unashamedly opulent search for surf-rock perfection begins. Rich harmonies collide, glistening guitar tones crunch and jangle and dreamy romances are blown up into grand, kitchen-sink operas. Sadly, though, the drift from retro Teenage Fanclub melodies into a pedestrian middle-of-the-road chug sucks the life out of the great moments of flippant power-pop. As drab, wallowing balladry and drudging rhythms take hold, even Benson himself seems bored by the aptly titled Beatles dirge Gonowhere.
With Benson neither a melancholy dreamer like Elliott Smith, nor a jaunty genius like Edwyn Collins, My Old, Familiar Friend is bereft of a distinct personality that you can love, hate or even barely notice. What he does have in abundance, however, is a sharp ear, a head full of hooks and a hefty supply of killer one-liners that baffle, charm and touch. “If she throws her heart away / I’ll be there on garbage day / To sift through what’s left, I guess / To sort through the loneliness" is particularly telling.
Striking the perfect marriage between the thundering grime of his Detroit past and his love of soaring, head-bobbing infectiousness, Poised and Ready triumphs as a rush of snarling fuzz, delivered with a sugar-coated glaze. The raucous, rumbling sprawl of Borrow should please Raconteurs fans, while Eyes on the Horizon probably has the best chance of charming radio’s tastemakers.
All told, this is a noble attempt to merge spiky, unassuming indie into joyous vintage pop; but Benson shouldn’t lose White’s phone number just yet. --Colin Irwin
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