Review Summary: Ben Harper's third album showcases his abilities as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist with a remarkably eclectic collection of songs.
Ben Harper"The Will To Live" is Ben Harper's third full album, and following the successes of "Welcome To The Cruel World" and especially "Fight For Your Mind", his fans' expectations were high. What he delivered was an incredibly eclectic album.
While WTTCW was largely an acoustic singer-songwriter affair, FFYM branched out further into rock, gospel and reggae, and The Will To Live takes it even further - it would be difficult to even find two songs on the whole album that might fit the same category. It rocks retro, slide guitared, riff driven and psychadelic in various combinations. It features some beautiful and intricate acoustic work on conventional and slide guitars too. Harper delves into blues, raeggae, hymns, gospel, funk and soul, and the variation makes the album great for relistening.
Of course all that variety would mean nothing if the songs were no good. Thankfully for the most part Harper nails it:
A fuzzy slide guitar driven rock with jaded vocals and a ridiculously pretty acoustic bridge. Great song.
Homeless Child: 3.5/5
A sort of footstomping gospel-blues song with a great vocal performance. It doesn't really go anywhere, but it captures a great groove.
Number Three: 4.5/5
Just an incredible acoustic guitar instrumental. Harper's showing off!
Roses From My Friends: 5/5
The emotional core of the album. Harper pleads "The stones from my enemies, these wounds will mend: But I cannot survive the roses from my friends". A really fantastic song that builds around an acoustic slide guitar riff into a huge crescendo.
Jah Work: 2.5/5
A sort of reggae devotional song (?), It's got some cool guitar work but it never really engages me.
I Want To Be Ready: 3/5
A gospel hymn - a very sincere and plaintive performance - I dig it but I have to say it's in an odd spot on the album sequence-wise.
The Will To Live: 3.5/5
Ben cranks up the amp again. It's a slow-fast rocker but Harper's lyrics and guitar are distinctive and passionate.
A bit of a dud as far as I'm concerned, it just sort of plods along without much to say.
Widow Of A Living Man: 4/5
Really well crafted little acoustic song with Ben in falsetto.
Glory and Consequence: 4.5/5
This is a lively rock song anchored by a great riff and an excellent performance by Harper on vocals and guitar.
Mama's Trippin': 3/5
This is a stright out piece of Funk replete with 70s guitars and horns. Enjoyable but not all that memorable.
I Shall Not Walk Alone: 2.5/5
Ben finishes the album off with a gentle song of faith.
If you've enjoyed any other Ben Harper you've heard then this is well worth a listen. As always Ben's political / social / religious consciousness is not hidden, although it is difficult to pin down. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but his lofty intentions undeniably shine through in his musicianship. I'll add that I prefer Harper's first four albums because the songs are more finely honed - on the latter albums he seems to be cruising along on his improvisational abilities a little more. That songcraft is what makes so many of the songs on this album memorable.