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Brendan Benson
My Old Familiar Friend Will Parkhouse , August 28th, 2009 07:14

When Jack White plucked Detroit pal Brendan Benson from relative obscurity to join his merry band of Raconteurs, the Benson faithful were perhaps expecting their man to be introduced into indie-rock society in a style similar to Joan Baez 'bringing out' the young, grinning Bob Dylan: "Look what I've found!"

Or maybe Mr B just fell in with the wrong crowd. Either way, s'all good: with The Raconteurs on hold for now, Benson's back to hitchhiking alone down the power-pop highway with fourth album My Old Familiar Friend (hey, could the title be referring to his solo career?) just as summer gets its second, um, wind – and, thanks to White's patronage, that spotlight just got a bit brighter.

So it's fitting that the album opener 'A Whole Lot Better' is liberally doused with optimism – that's how he feels when you're not around (oh, no, not you, Jack) – and shows Benson still has a way with a tune, with some punchy guitars giving the song enough pep to wake, if not the dead, then at least the very sleepy. It all gives way to an exquisite refrain: "I fell in love with you / And out of love with you / And back in love with you / All in the same day." These artist types, eh? Still, it's quite a journey – Benson has a knack for creating a kind of, "Ah, man, that was some summer"-type wistfulness in double-quick time. Final track 'Borrow' pulls off a similar trick: there's a ready-made nostalgia just waiting to spring from its harmonies.

In between, it's not all quite such a breeze. There are too many nothing-y lyrics revolving around "you"; great for the egotists, but Benson's overreliance on hectoring yet another girl who doesn't meet his exacting standards in the second-person gets a bit wearing. There are sparks – the paranoid love affair in 'Eyes on the Horizon' ("Well I'm convinced that underneath that black hair / There's a listening device planted there") is a riot, the declaration that "I've been hiding in caves" in 'Feel Like Taking You Home' raises a smile, and it's hard to knock a track loaded with elegant Motown strings that's called 'Garbage Day'. On the other hand, 'Gonowhere' goes, you guessed it, nowhere, with Benson reeling off the kind of platitudes apparently designed to give Chris Martin a hard-on.

Musically there's some filler too. Although he has his own distinctive style when it comes to a melody – it was piss easy to recognise which tracks were his on those Raconteurs albums – and we wouldn't have it any other way, some of these really are, at best, B-sides. 'You Make a Fool of Me' is even reminiscent of – God preserve us – Jet.

My Old Familiar Friend doesn't scale the heights of 2002's almost perfect Lapalco, then, but there are just about enough sunny patches for us to be thankful to Jack for getting his protégé back in one piece.

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