While Brendan Benson‘s albums can be predictable, that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable. The Michigan-born sometime Raconteurs man’s fifth effort, What Kind Of World, is another record full of hooks and melodies that add up to a fairly straightforward listen. yet at the same time it shows off his knack for solid songwriting.
The title track doesn’t start things off with a bang, being rather a slow-burner as it builds from its rumbling beginnings to a blustery finish with driving guitars. Amidst all of this is a rather simplistic but very effective chorus that is impossible to ignore. Whilst it’s not quite as immediate as some of his album openers (see Spit It Out from 2005’s The Alternative To Love), it sets things up nicely.
This rocking mood doesn’t last long, though. Following on from this is the balladry of Bad For Me, with Benson pessimistically stating: “Here it goes again, another losing streak/Guess I’m on a roll”. It’s the type of contemplative fare that might well be played by a weary pianist in a downtown bar room.
The rest of What Kind Of World goes to-and-fro between these dynamics and it works well as a largely filler-free LP, even though it’s not breaking new ground. Some of its surprising moments are when guitars get pushed to the sidelines. Keep Me is a song dripping with lust, with Hammond organs acting as its racing heart. Juxtaposing this is Pretty Baby, which focuses more on setting a mood – almost as if it was being written especially for a film.
He’s at his best though when he plays his power pop cards. The excellent one-two of Here In The Deadlights and Met Your Match are two of his punchiest tunes to date. It’s unashamed radio rock, and satisfying for it.
Just as satisfying are Benson’s lyrics. Again, he’s not bringing anything new to the subjects of love and desire, but he knows how to write a memorable phrase or two. His most striking use of imagery occurs during Pretty Baby when he croons “I’ve got a hole in my head/And the blood is running ‘cos of you”. This is rivalled by the juxtaposing couplet of “This darkness is the safest place/I don’t care if I ever see the light of day” on the otherwise sunny-sounding Light Of Day. Meanwhile, when he asks “What are you gonna do now that you’ve met your match?” on Met Your Match you wonder if he’s really talking to himself.
It’s difficult to imagine Benson wanting to let loose and experiment anytime soon. As he comfortably enters middle-age and becomes a parent it seems as if he’s quite happy to coast along, writing songs that he knows will work based on what has worked in the past. Rarely has the mantra ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ been more appropriate. The only track that gives the sense of something new is the playful closer, On The Fence – which ambles off down the country road. Neither revolutionary nor surprising, then. But he doesn’t really need to do anything different. His fans will lap this up for being another solid Brendan Benson album.