“Well here it goes, another losing streak,” are the first words Brendan Benson sings on “Bad For Me,” the single from his new album What Kind of World. Although the album is ostensibly about Mr. Benson’s failure to secure lasting victories on love’s battlefield, the esoteric meaning of the words allude to Mr. Benson’s pessimism about his music career. Once touted as the next big thing, Mr. Benson’s recent solo albums have failed to secure this title for their creator. What Kind of World is, sadly, in the same vein.
It’s neither excellent nor mediocre; instead, it’s competent. It offers 12 songs sharing certain commonalities: pessimism concerning romance, chord progressions that seldom venture outside of the realm of expectations, and production that, in spite of its lo-fi aspirations, is a little too sanitized for my tastes. Every note sounds like it was approved by the Council of Rock Safety. Although a lot of reviewers have called this album power pop, I’m not sure that’s the case. The phrase that comes to mind is adult contemporary for young people (the song “No One Else But You”).
Mr. Benson takes few risks when it comes to his songwriting and is not one for subverting expectation. I think that as the indie rockers of recent years get older and more settled in their insulated and comfortable lifestyles we’re going to be hearing more of this type of music. It’s absolutely unthreatening and unchallenging and it makes AC Newman’s work with the New Pornographers (of whom I’m a fan) sound like Metal Box in comparison. It’s all very saccharine and sounds like something that suburban twenty-somethings might enjoy as a soundtrack to their romantic trials and tribulations.
I’m being a little hard on Mr. Benson; he is a consummate craftsperson and as I said, none of these songs are even mediocre. They’re well-constructed and arranged and have interesting timbres that enter and vacate the mix in commendable ways and Mr. Benson knows what he’s doing, but I kind of wish he didn’t. His talented musicianship might engender more interesting results if he let go of doing what he does well and eschewed his proverbial comfort zone. I did like the last track, a country number called “On the Fence,” as well as the first two tracks, which are the title track and the single “Bad for Me,” but having just removed my headphones, I can’t seem to recall how they went.