Album Review: Brendan Benson – Dear Life

“Brendan Benson’s seventh solo album explores wild highs, desperate lows and transcendent love.”

A synth piece explodes into a ringing, repeated exclamation: “I Can If You Want Me To.” The pace picks up; he’s certain and ready.

The follow-up keeps the discordancy but loses the need for a relationship: “It’s only me/there’s no-one else.” A disco fill pushes the subject from wasted to ready. There’s time to question the moon landing and aging, but we always return to the mantra “it’s Good To Be Alive.”

Brendan Benson black & white

Half A Boy (Half A Man) pitches up as an autobiographical rock piece recounting a welder’s son’s experience experimenting with drugs and identities: “I’m both a tiger and a little lost lamb.”

Richest Man Alive is a joyous ode to family life: “ever since your birth it’s been heaven on earth.” It’s a ’50s rock and roll type tune bathed in brass and love.

The next track is more sombre in tone and topic as a woman in a sketchy situation in a stranger’s bed and a veteran with PTSD hang on for Dear Life in their own ways. The narrator himself looks to beauty to keep himself going.

Brendan Benson being tapped on the shoulder

We take another horn filled trip into that source of happiness as he sings to a love that saved him “I’ve watched love turn into lies and I never want to see that kind of hurt in my Baby’s Eyes.” There’s a retro feel to this one.

The contentment doesn’t last long as we return to musing about pills, letting go, and the defiant exclamation: “I can Freak Out if I want!” The guitar solo obliges.

Evil Eyes steps away from the happy relationship we’ve been hearing about: “I’ve been burned so many times/so if you want a turn you better get in line.” Those evil eyes casually turn into evil lies as Benson vacillates between decrying and accepting ill-treatment.

The two concepts collide in the sparky next song: “I’m in love with the way that you scold me/I’m obsessed with you.” He explores domination and control to a bassy beat and racy guitar then a hard stop.

A peppy three chord acoustic seems autobiographical in cementing the switch from hellraiser to family man: “there was this time I had it made/I got lucky in my early days/but I feel fine, it’s a fine day/I’ve got green lights all the way.” There are still doubts and mistakes, but he’s seeing clearer these days.

A child yells out ‘Dear Life’ as Benson delivers the strongest track on the record, a synth piano piece accepting the end but urging a lover to consider the next move carefully: “it’s easier to give up than it is to live up.”

Dear Life is Benson’s first solo album in seven years. The Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, producer, studio owner and founding member of The Racounteurs furthers his reputation as a polymath with a record that explores wild highs, desperate lows and transcendent love.

Dear Life is out now on Third Man Records. A hot pink vinyl record version is available from indie record stores such as Rough Trade.

Pink vinyl record

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