Brendan Benson is an admirable musical chameleon. A Woody Allen-esque Zelig, if you will. Unlike Allen’s 1983 cinematic main character, however, Benson doesn’t sacrifice individuality to be liked; he just wears many hats well.
You Were Right, out on Benson’s own Readymade Records, may feel like a one-man show where the star constantly changes costumes. But that doesn’t annoy. Rather, it’s an impressive, enjoyable, individualistic performance.
Benson was already and accomplished singer and songwriter before he joined forces with Jack White to create The Raconteurs in 2005. Benson is more of a power-pop purist than the blues leaning White. And yet, traces of the former White Stripe show through during “Rejuvenate Me,” as Benson puts on a rapid fire, county fair carny voice – one of White’s favorite vocal characters – for three-an-a-half minutes.
The Stax-Volt Memphis soul – complete with brass horn section – of “I Don’t Wanna See You Anymore” is this recording’s Everest moment, even though Benson doesn’t have the vocal grit to sell the sentiment the way Otis Redding might have. Benson elsewhere reveals a talent for mixing and matching strange bedfellow styles in the way he builds “As of Tonight” atop a Mark Knopfler-styled electric guitar line before borrowing (stealing?) a full blown The Sweet chorus. He even ups the ante by singing the verses with a dead ringer Ron Sexsmith voice.
“Long Term Goal” contains a few of Benson’s best lyrical zingers. Describing the ultimate lazy bones Jones, in what could potentially be a new slacker anthem, he empathizes with a guy that sleeps all day: “It’s a drag now when all your friends cannot be reached by phone.” A word like ‘drag’ is so retro, yet Benson gets away with applying it, due to already established cool.
Pride suggests Benson makes records like these for people like me. For fans that catch most, if not all, of the stylistic references. But he’s not the musical equivalent to Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons; he juxtaposes reggae and garage-power-pop during “I’ll Never Tell,” for instance, just because he can do it, and do it well. He never got bored making You Were Right, and your mind won’t wander while listening to it.