When I read the first sentence of the review of The Alternative to Love on PitchforkMedia, I knew that this CD was totally worth the walk in the summer heat to my local independent record store and the 13 bucks I shelled out for it: “Brendan Benson smokes a lot of cigarettes. He's also had a lot of girlfriends, most of whom have left him. This combination is the nuclear fission of pop songwriting, and the afflicted can (and do) write inexhaustibly about the topics. Benson has been at it for almost a decade, and until now he's shown no sign of shaking his nicotine grievances.”
Brendan Benson has been in the indie music spotlight ever since his Lapalco and One Mississippi albums were released on Startime Records. Since then, he has moved to V2 Records, home of groups such as the White Stripes, Bloc Party, the Blood Brothers, Gang of Four, and up-and-comers the Greenhornes, whom Benson is involved with along with Jack White from the White Stripes in the Raconteurs. But when one thinks of power-pop, his name doesn’t come to mind, while bands like Weezer, Matthew Sweet, and the New Pornographers do. Benson, who hails from Detroit, Michigan, draws on garage rock guitars, synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and his singing and lyricism to make power-pop that is different from any other group in the genre. Benson skillfully played every instrument while in the studio recording, but he wants “to get a band and go into a studio and work with a producer, maybe, and focus on my parts -- singing and playing guitar -- and do those well, and not spread myself so thin."
The Alternative to Love is far brighter and happier (i.e. songs like “Spit It Out,” “What I’m Looking For” and “Alternative Love”) than Lapalco. Benson’s lyrics are supposedly about love and the many (failed) relationships, but he quickly refutes that; “It's just stream of consciousness. Occasionally I'm singing about something specific, but it's more just stream of consciousness words and rhyming and nonsense. But I hope that people sort of can take (something out of it), that it means something to someone or that people will interpret it the way they want.” Benson’s songs are sometimes complex and can make you feel different things depending on the mood you’re in. Some of his songs are simple too, and on those tracks he truly shines. It is definitely worth buying if you like pop music in general. I totally believe that Brendan Benson is overshadowed by the New Pornographers because of Neko Case (darned Canadian woman!!!) and Carl Newman (pop genius extraordinaire).
Brendan Benson has found his alternative to love; it’s his music. He has produced records by V2 band Blanch, the Greenhornes, and even one of his side projects, the Raconteurs. “If I'm not working on music, anxiety sets in. Maybe it's not so healthy to stay locked away in a studio; you've got to live a life to write a song. But in 'Letters to a Young Poet,' Rilke said if you were in jail, cut off from the world, with nothing but a view of the sky from a small window, you'd still have your memories to write about. I love that.” I can’t agree with him more...