Brendan Benson
The Alternative To Love


3.5
great

Review

by Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered 80s USER (8 Reviews)
September 30th, 2011 | 10 replies | 3,040 views


Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Hooks, melody, and more hooks from the man best known as 'the other Raconteur'

3 of 3 thought this review was well written

Ok, so getting out of the way the fact that Benson's power-pop masterpiece 'Lapalco' was pretty much impossible to follow, 'The Alternative to Love' is a solid album in its own right, boasting some stunning songs. It kicks off in great style with 'Spit it Out', a driving, airy rocker with a killer chorus and whirling synths - in fact remarkably similar to Lapalco's opener, 'Tiny Spark', perhaps even surpassing it in terms of songwriting . Though none of the other tracks can keep the pace of the opener, there are riches to be found in 'Cold Hands (Warm Heart)', with it's pretty, McCartney-esque melody and lush, gently shuffling arrangement, emphasizing the retro pop influences present all over the record. The country-tinged title track teases for almost 2 minutes before drifting into a lovely bubblegum-folk chorus, and the sprightly 'Gold Into Straw' re-invigorates the album somewhat after a string of so-so ballads, which unfortunately dominate the middle of the album - light drifting psychedelia is OK for a few minutes, but ultimately serves to dilute Benson's irrepressible sense of melody. That said, 'The Pledge', with its cavernous, Phil Spector on steroids drums, chiming bells, and BIG, OBVIOUS CHORD CHANGES actually sidesteps cliche and ends up as welcome detour into pure 60s fetishization.

However, despite the occasional style shifts, this is not Benson's own personal 'Kid A' moment - the music is power-pop through and through, with the requisite chiming guitars, gentle palm-muting (/m), and angelic harmonies. Such formulaic arrangements would normally fall into the abyss of ultimate blandness under most people's watch, but Benson's sturdy songwriting and attention to detail thankfully prevent this. The Elliot Smith-alike intro to 'Flesh and Bone' and the pleasingly ramshackle closer 'Between Us', which harks back to Benson's earlier work on 'One Mississippi' are both welcome additions - subtle variations on the overall mood without feeling out-of-place or like token experiments in genre.

Lyrically, despite the odd entertaining barb such as 'you give a whole new meaning to the same crap' (on 'Spit it Out'), Benson can come across as too mawkish and earnest. Though it's nice to hear a record so free of cynicism in this modern age, there's only so many ways you can write about being jilted, and Benson can sound contrived and awkward at times, as on the otherwise excellent 'Feel Like Myself', where he intones 'I won't forget/gonna make you regret/the day you were born/I'll leave you forlorn'. However, he creditably avoids slipping into mawkishness throughout the album, dodging the old power-pop cliches even when writing about the same old subjects. In short, he's no Dylan, but the lyrics really aren't the focus here, pretty much serving as something for Benson to hang his irresistible melodies on.

And that's the problem. Benson is apparently incapable of writing a bad melody, and the first thing you come away with after listening is the sense that he could craft great, tuneful pop albums for the next decade or five. Thing is, is he capable of doing more than that? Because in this day and age, when genre-blending artists are commonplace, grinding yourself further into a niche is the last thing you want to do, and it would be sad for Benson not to be more highly recognized for the top-rate pop songwriter this album proves he is.



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user ratings (22)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
jefflebowski
September 30th 2011



8171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is so not a Sputnik album

Digging: Pantha Du Prince - This Bliss

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 30th 2011



10331 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

love this album, even more than lapalco

Digging: Literature - Chorus

jefflebowski
September 30th 2011



8171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

he's so underrated as a songwriter. Most of my favorite Raconteurs tracks are his as well

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 30th 2011



10331 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

this was the first album i heard by him way back in high school and blew me away. raconteurs was disappointing relatively but yeah his tracks slay. you also didn't mention two of the best tracks here! (them and me and what im looking for)


great review tho

jefflebowski
September 30th 2011



8171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I do really like 'them and me', but I generally tend to list tracks to make a point rather than my
favorites ones specifically. Biggest Fan is also really nice, love the piano/melody combination.


I haven't reviewed for a while so I thought I might be a little rusty, but thanks


klap
Staff Reviewer
September 30th 2011



10331 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

haha i know just had to bring those tracks up. this is one of those 5's for me that's purely on nostalgia and how it affected my later listening tastes. every other album by him hasn't had the same effect on me but he's still a master of power pop

jefflebowski
September 30th 2011



8171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

absolutely, he's the best working in the genre today IMO.

My old familiar friend was a bit disappointing though, coming after 3 excellent albums

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
September 30th 2011



6443 Comments


Great review Dude (pun intended), have yerself a pos!

I remember seeing the Raconteurs once and finding them god-awful...
So I guess this won't be for me

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

jefflebowski
September 30th 2011



8171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks man, I'm pretty happy with this review actually

But wait! Bear in mind this isn't much like the Raconteurs at all - It's much more tuneful, upbeat and poppy, not to mention the songs are better. If you have any interest in guitar pop, this and Lapalco are worth a look.

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
September 30th 2011



6443 Comments


Right, thanks. I'll have a look into it then =)





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