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Benson’s voice, double-tracked throughout, has a homely, unfussy quality which perfectly complements the record’s ordinary-bloke lyrics and sweet melodies
Sam Healy, 22 Nov 2002
It is an ineffable and joyous mystery of the musical ages that acoustic guitars and analogue synths sound so right together. Brendan Benson has surely studied his scripture on this point: his relentlessly upbeat debut LaPalco milks the strums’n’bleeps format for all it’s worth, and the result is a resonating success.
If the album had to be summarised in a word, the word would be ‘warm.’ Benson’s voice, double-tracked throughout, has a homely, unfussy quality which perfectly complements the record’s ordinary-bloke lyrics and sweet melodies. But underneath this self-effacing surface, there’s also an immense and subtle creative talent on display.
Second track ‘Metarie,’ for example, starts with a gentle, Badly Drawn Boy-like acoustic line. Wistful vocals drift in: “Met a girl, introduced myself/I asked her to go with me and no-one else.” A female voice joins him, still à la Damon Gough. And just as you think you’ve got the song pegged as an amiable, wilfully simplistic singalong, it suddenly veers sideways into another key, bringing luscious lo-fi drums and harmonies with it.
Almost every song on the album gracefully defies expectations in this manner. ‘Folk Singer’ is a rock song, ‘You’re Quiet’ is an upbeat pop tune, ‘What’ begins as atmospheric lounge jazz only to become a strident Oasis-meets-The-Whitlams stomp-along.
There’s also the odd memorable lyric, though in general Benson relies a little too heavily on the quotidian guess-what-happened-the-other-day formula. ‘Life In The D’ speaks of a sinner trapped between heaven and hell: “When God made the earth, and saw his net worth/He posed for a shot... If hell does exist, then the devil’s a scientist/Finding the cure.”
LaPalco is a very good record. The only reason it’s not excellent is that its unflagging optimism – never dropped, even for a second – tilts the overall listening experience off-balance and becomes a kind of flippancy. We need dark to see light, even if it’s just a half shadow. It is certain that a musician of Benson’s caliber has dark songs too, so he must have chosen to omit them from LaPalco, to its detriment.
I look forward to hearing them on his next album.