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Album review: Brendan Benson's 'My Old, Familiar Friend'

August 18, 2009 |  6:02 am
Breson_240_ Brendan Benson has at least three good ideas before he ever parts his lips on "A Whole Lot Better," the first track of his new album "My Old, Familiar Friend." First, a tiny synthesizer flutters into focus, then a big prog-rock guitar riff stomps around a bit before finally building into one of the better updates of Alex Chilton's power-pop in Benson's career.

Plenty of equally inspired singles follow on "Friend." Enough, in fact, to make you wonder how a songwriter so gifted and effortless became most famous as Jack White's wingman in the Raconteurs. The problem might be that Benson, for all his skills as a writer, is still missing a bit of that inscrutable star's juju.

But don't lose sight of the fact that we have 11 perfect, swaggering new pop songs in the world. "Garbage Day" lays a melancholy disco orchestra over a witty impending-breakup ballad: "If she throws her heart away / I'll be there on garbage day." "Don't Want to Talk" has black-tongued pluck worthy of Joe Jackson, and the album closes grandly with the poison-pen rocker "Borrow."

That Benson probably already has a dozen as-good new arrows in the quiver is the curse of the prodigious. But with songs like these, as coy and shiny as new pennies, Benson's private hunt for airtight guitar pop is worth relishing.

-- August Brown

Brendan Benson
"My Old, Familiar Friend"
ATO Records
Three stars