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My Old Familiar Friend

Brendan Benson expertly assembles pop music using the manual.

Rating: 8 / 10

The Hot Press Newsdesk, 01 Sep 2009

Every time someone like MIA or Bjork rips up the rule-book and people applaud, Brendan Benson sneaks into the room, collects the scraps and meticulously pieces it together again with Pritt Stick and a magnifying glass. He then spends his nights, tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth in concentration, a pen behind his ear, an adorable smudge on his nose, following the book’s instructions on how to make songs with working titles like, ‘Folk Song 4’ or ‘Power Pop Song 9’.

This, as it turns out, isn’t a bad thing, because Benson is a melodic wunderkind. Whereas most craft-happy copyists tend to rely on overworn chord sequences and tired death-hungry airs, the American, to his credit, subverts otherwise generic tracks with some surprising melodic twists and turns.

As a result, this record is way better than it ought to be. ‘Eyes On The Horizon’ is a pretty fantastic, if unoriginal Tom Petty-esque power-pop song while ‘Garbage Day’ is a genius bit of Billy Joel codology floating on a bouncy bass-line and lovely string section. ‘You Make A Fool Out Of Me’ is all Clifford T. Ward sensitivity as Brendan rides his chugging acoustic guitar through the unsurprising streets of Stringsville. Then in ‘Poised And Ready’ he borrows the choppy guitars and organs of Joe Jackson and uses them to make a lovely garage pop fort.

Overall it’s catchy and impossible to dislike. Brendan Benson proves the old adage, ‘If you can’t be first, be best’ by being unoriginally bloody good.

Rating: 8 / 10
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