It’s more than just a shame that many listeners were introduced to Brendan Benson when he joined forces with indie demigod Jack White to lay those forgettable Raconteurs records on the world. Truth be told, the Raconteurs did little more than stifle Benson’s unique and vast sonic language. Hard to believe that amidst all of the “I’m with the weird dude in the Stripes” hype, Benson has released three beautiful and pop-driven records.
Things don’t slow down for Benson on My Old, Familiar Friend, a clean, fresh, and altogether eager-to-please fourth LP. While no one would dream of kicking White from his indie blues pedestal, and I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Benson is more creative or harder rocking or whatever, one can’t ignore the facts presented on My Old, Familiar Friend: dude is wicked talented.
Playing My Old, Familiar Friend for one only slightly initiated with the Raconteurs would likely induce a state of shock. There’s nary a trace of the sweaty blues that White favours. Instead, it’s Benson’s keen ear for the delicacies of pop that are prominent on My Old, Familiar Friend. And what he does with these delicacies is rather remarkable.
He refuses to pigeonhole himself into a particular sound. This complements the clattered vibe of the lyrics on My Old, Familiar Friend with remarkable ease. Never has restlessness sounded so polished and focused. And never before has Benson harnessed a certain imminent, orchestral-like vibe better than on his fourth LP.
Case in point, the blistering “Poised and Ready”, a tune that seems destined to brings the beer drinkers out of their seats and let their inebriation take hold. Somehow, Benson has managed to cross through three different time capsules in three minutes. There’s the swirl of ‘50s beach rock mashed with a late ‘70s, fist-in-the-air punk aesthetic completed by a rousing, string-heavy ‘80s pop chorus. Benson is one hasty man, mixing all these sounds with a hopeful vibe. “Poised and Ready”, like the rest of My Old, Familiar Friend, is essentially a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it record of pop gems. Benson risks stretching himself very thin, yet usually the result is how high his sing-a-long voice and pitch-perfect melodies can get.
An album clad with pop melodies and pressing, accessible guitars runs the risk of becoming all too familiar, in that every song sounds as hopped up as the next. It’s a weighty risk, for sure. But Benson exacts some emotional weight within My Old, Familiar Friend that distinguishes himself from other pop records. On “Misery”, a near perfect pop song, Benson hides emotional turmoil amidst a strung out, churning, New Pornographers-esque vibe that renders one at the helm of his up and down structure. But the way in which Benson approaches these no-holds-barred pop songs is something which holds a lot of clout.
My Old, Familiar Friend isn’t afraid to show itself as exactly what it is: A classic pop record from an artist who has seen many sides of the spectrum and stays true to the melodies which carry him through his life. He doesn’t hold back on his failures. He doesn’t know any other way. The sound of My Old, Familiar Friend is likely influenced by the sound that Benson grew up with and holds dear to his heart. The title of the record becomes immediately all the more appropriate. His songs are heavy and light all at once. “I want to get it off my chest, but nobody’s listening,” Benson claims on My Old Familiar Friend. You couldn’t be more wrong. We are listening, Brendan. We’re listening loud and clear, and we like what we hear.