I’m not breaking any boundaries when I say that Brendan Benson is a maestro of power pop. It’s kind of his “thing.” Accordingly, I won’t try to drop any new knowledge bombs. What Kind of World is an airtight, wonderfully crafted album that sounds like the freshest studio project of 1978. It’s such a satisfying listen that you have to wonder if Jack White has it in for ol’ Brendan.
Benson and White, bandmates in the Raconteurs, both released their new albums on April 23. To no one’s surprise, White’s Blunderbuss, which also wears its old-school influence proudly, has dominated both the charts and the chatter of music fans. In an otherwise lackluster week for new releases, the wonderful What Kind of World would have been the week’s most exciting album, hands down.
Fans of Styx and REO Speedwagon need look no further than Benson’s oeuvre, which holds the energetic, propulsive kind of pop-rock that made those bands household names. What Kind of World doesn’t indulge in the more bombastic, arena tendencies of those bands, instead keeping affairs on the mellow-and-confident side.
Recorded entirely in analog and divided into two sides, any track on What Kind of World could serve as a single. The title track alternates between a slow burn and a sweeping chorus, while “Happy Most of the Time” settles into a nice, piano-heavy Ben Folds groove; “The Light of Day” could easily be a “Sha Sha”-era Ben Kweller tune. “Here In the Deadlights” bears more than a passing resemblance to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” in the chorus.
Benson has a poetic flair, singing on “Happy Most of the Time” about the “heavenly sway of teenage hips,” and on “Pretty Baby” crooning “keep me anywhere you want, just never set me free.” That track is a darker one, sounding more than a bit like White himself and setting off the more somber tone with a beautiful violin part. The bluesy overtones match perfectly with lines like, “Why now, baby, would a lady bring the heat?”
What Kind of World excels in its accessibility. Benson writes songs that sound like what we’ve come to expect good old fashioned rock music to sound like. Even in moments of stylistic experimentation, like the folk-flavored “On the Fence,” Benson keeps things tight and toe-tappingly listenable — there aren’t any navel-gazing diversions or tedious “artistic” indulgences. What Kind of World is just well-built music.
(4) “Happy Most of the Time”
(6) “Pretty Baby”
(7) “Here in the Deadlights”