Star Time International
Singer/songwriter Brendan Benson shares more than a series of alliterative ties to the Alex Chilton/Chris Bell/Big Star songwriting combination. Before Big Star’s fractured deconstruction (led by Alex Chilton’s demented pop-masterpiece Third/Sister Lovers), Big Star pioneered what has come to be categorized as power-pop. Combining vocal and pop panache from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, plus the sonic grind of The Who, Big Star is a band whose influence touches much of today’s indie-rock. Where Alex Chilton successfully sabotaged Third/Sister Lovers with haphazard disjointed songs that rang as erratic as the marketing and distribution firms that handled the record, Benson’s 1996 debut One Mississippi (Virgin) was commercially dismantled by poor label support and lack of a to-radio-single.
Benson strikes a similar songwriting chord with the Chilton/Bell collaboration; he is involved in a songwriting partnership of his own, with former Jellyfish guitarist Jason Falkner. The Benson/Falkner credit appears on five of the album’s twelve songs, although Falkner’s presence doesn’t invade on Benson’s amiable pop sensibilities.
Following in the musical mold of The Raspberries, Benson’s tunes bounce with wit and kitsch alike. At times the young songsmith sounds vaguely like John Lennon, whose songstylings he often borrows from throughout the record. The Benson/Falkner vehicle “Tiny Spark,” utilizes a rich combination of Beatles’ background “la-la’s” and guitar-driven pop with darts of keyboards throughout.
Benson’s solo penned tune “Metarie,” builds to a chorus that brings Radio City immediately to mind, a perfectly arranged series of male/female harmonies sliding around the song’s gummily-building hook, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you / I’ve run out of gas and I’m stuck like glue.”
The infectiously clever arrangements extend throughout the record, with Falkner and Benson’s voices competing brilliantly for lead vocal credits. In “Folk Singer” the song’s ironically dirty-guitar driven verses break into open-ringing flange-sounding guitars.
Comparisons to classic power-pop acts simmer during the introduction to “You’re Quiet,” which is dominated by a keyboards waxing a new wave homage to the Cars.
If there is a weak point to Benson’s songs, it may be his over-excitement for generic lyrics, but as in the case of The Beatles, the best lyrics don’t make the best songs. Benson is wholly aware of his bold-face nods to Chilton and Lennon, his female speaker reminds him of the fact in “Folk Singer,” joking, “Stop pretending, you’re not John Lennon.” Brendan Benson understands that he is no John Lennon, but he is a smart songwriter, crafting an album replete with clever pop tunes.