REVIEW: BRENDAN BENSON – YOU WERE RIGHT (2013)
Brendan Benson is best known to some as the other guy; the guy who sings and plays guitar alongside Jack Whitein the two friends’ Detroit-born supergroup, The Raconteurs. White is the more famous and hailed musician of the group, but Benson is no less a prominent part of that band. The Raconteurs haven’t released an album since 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely but White told Rolling Stone in July that Raconteurs collaborating and recording has recently been in the mix. What keeps Benson busy in the meantime? His day job, a resilient solo career spanning over 15 years now. Benson’s sixth and latest solo album, You Were Right, collects a series of singles released throughout the year, as well as songs reworked from previously unfinished ideas and demos. It’s a mixture that usually translates into an uneven album consisting of, well, just that– one-off songs and leftover studio cuts. However, You Were Right is a first-rate exception, a worthy follow-up to Benson’s favorable 2012 release, What Kind of World.
Empowering the ordinary man’s weaknesses has always been one of Benson’s songwriting strengths. From Lapalco’s beloved “Tiny Spark” and “Metarie” to Alternative to Love’s title track and “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” on through What Kind of World’s “Bad for Me.” Benson is a master at accurately retelling the heartbreaks and shortfalls of real life and love. But what is most impressive is how he delivers the downhearted ballad as a rousing defense– a melodic, uplifting anthem ringing out from the depths of sadness and misfortune. With You Were Right, Benson continues to lead the charge. “New Words of Wisdom” is a pleasantly paced, strong-willed delivery of the last straw (“And I ain’t got the time/ And I don’t have the patience/ For you or your kind/ And all your relations”). Openly titled “I Don’t Wanna See You Anymore” tackles similar wronging with an impassioned melody, a wonderful throwback to the fevered pitch of ‘60s soul.
“Long Term Goal” is one of the older tunes reworked for the new album. “Have you got a long-term goal?/ Is it only rock ‘n’ roll?” Benson asks on the track, bringing to mind the record label turmoil he faced through much of his career. Any remaining frustration from the time is hung out on the track’s wonderfully unapologetic bridge. From the What Kind of World recordings, reggae-tinted “I’ll Never Tell” made the cut for the new album, adding a streak of flavor to the collection. “Oh My Love” is another engaging late-album standout in which Benson sings, “We could be lovers, or we could be friends/ Smother each other, but that’s how it ends/ Could be the wrong words, that mean everything/ Like two lonely songbirds, that don’t want to sing.”
Only a year and a half after releasing What Kind of World, Benson returns with another well-crafted collection of songs. Given its fragmented compilation of new singles with older reworked tracks, You Were Right fits together impressively well. These are meaningful, well-written songs and they further solidify Benson’s unique pop/folk blend and quiet stronghold as a talented American singer-songwriter.