Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Jellyfish Family Tree Part 5: A Flashback for Benson

I posted last year about my history with Brendan Benson’s catalog, but I left out a tidbit of information that only now, within the context of this Jellyfish project, gains relevance. It is true that I discovered his debut quite accidentally and purchased it sight on scene, but here's the "LOST" flashback: When I cracked it open and began checking out the liner notes, I was stunned to find that several of the songs were co-written with Jason Falkner.  By 1997, Presents Author Unknown had already earned Falkner a spot in my all-time greats list, and listening to One Mississippi with an ear for his influence undoubtedly contributed to my adoration of that album. Benson became another of my power pop favorites, and I have loyally followed him ever since.

I'm Blessed by Brendan Benson on Grooveshark

As far as continuity, that criminally underviewed post on Benson would probably make more sense as the next entry in this Jellyfish-related series, but I'm addressing his most recent release in its stead.  In truth, it’s been awhile since Falkner’s name has appeared in Benson’s liner notes, and his most recent release What Kind of World does bear Falkner’s influence, but not so much his direct input. I still hear its traces floating around in Benson’s songcraft, but the album’s darker setting evokes Benson’s interactions with Jack White more readily than Falkner’s vivacious energy. Regardless, Benson does have ties to Jellyfish through Falkner, and as such, deserves a dedicated branch on the their Family Tree.

Virtually every release from Benson since One Mississippi has been immediately rock-solid for me, but my experience with What Kind of World has been a bit different. Although it exhibits the same great songwriting and slick wordplay found on all of Benson’s releases, its relatively somber approach was a bit perplexing, and not just initially. It was a while before I became comfortable letting go of the carefree aesthetic of his past work. Certainly, the video for Pretty Baby reveals a very dark, and somewhat disturbing, interpretation of the song’s lyrics that did not fit with my preconceptions of Benson’s work.

Still, I never quite closed the door on What Kind of World.  It kept finding its way back into the player, and I began to notice traces of Benson's freewheeling past in several songs - instances that were somehow eclipsed by the album’s more solemn moments. It took a little adjustment to smooth over these extremes. As always, however, Benson proves to be quite adept at infusing each of his albums with a definitive, unifying character.  The disposition of that character is a bit more moody on What Kind of World, but it is still defined enough to bring the album together as a singular experience.

Because it follows My Old, Familiar Friend, which might be my favorite album from Benson to date, What Kind of World has a lot to live up to. In the end, however, like all of Benson’s releases, it is a phenomenal entry into the power pop canon.  It is also a very recent manifestation of the long-term influence that Jellyfish continues to have in that genre, as well as my own listening interests.

The previous post in the Jellyfish Family Tree is here.
To skip to the next one, you have but to click here.

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