Sound: This 2002 release by Benson has to stand as one of the better pure pop records made so far this decade. In an era where "pop" has become a dirty word amongst the non brain dead for it's association with Britney Spears and Disney dreck, a few souls, largely confined to the indie world, are hard at work brining the term pop to it's 60's (peak)ideal. Benson is one of those. Along with others like Stuart Murdoch and especially James Mercer, he aims for songs that impact you succinctly, that create an interesting sound world, and have a melodic quality as well.These few musicians look not to the simplified caveman rock that has dominated since the early 70s but to the works of Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, Smokey Robinson, Syd Barrett, Pete Townshend, etc. LAPALCO is one of precious few records that can claim to be a rightful heir to that tradition, while also building on it (simple nostalgic revamps are of little use, though they can be good-The early work of the Apples in Stereo comes to mind-but throwbacks with less taste, such as Wolfmother, are deplorable). A rundown-
01.Tiny Spark: built around a very simple three chord I-V-IV structure, this is straight mid tempo power pop. big guitar sound and effective use of tambourine, keyboard and handclaps. the second verse's clever wordplay and the Beach Boys style bridge make this infectious ditty a must hear for fans of the genre.
02.Metarie: a favourite of it's author, perhaps judging by it's multiple recordings (or perhaps he wasn't satisfied with any? ), the album version of the song is quietly strung out, with effective use of staggered entry of voices and instruments. It actually bears similar sound to the Beatles mystery tour era sound in the vocal sense-"blue Jay Way" being a relevant example. the current tune holds the interest of the listener better, and is better written.
03.Folk Singer: built over a pumping Kinks style riff this tune may actually be more successful than (1) as a shining example of modern pop.The song mentions John Lennon and references lyric wise to the Band and chord wise to the Beatles are there-and once again the wordplay is exceedingly well done, the performance is energetic.Probably my personal favourite.
04.Life in the D: a dryly tired satire on Benson's Detroit roots, with audible Big Star influence as some have mentioned, it manages to reference such things as Egyptian tombs and microscopic science. Perhaps it's author's folkiest melody accompanies the quirky lyric.
05.Good To Me: well known as the song "traded" to Jack White (and as such released by his group the White Stripes as the B-side to "seven nation army") it's appropriately Benson's heaviest song, with a bouncy (if nearly "Doorsy") keyboard part underlying the verses. An effective combination of 60's Car-pop (a la "I get around") and more complicated sentiments.
06.You're Quiet: despite the LP version's loping synth, this is more pure 60's inspired pop, with the early Who coming to mind, particularly in the bridge's crashing suspended fourths and early Daltrey-esque exhortation). a later EP version of this song adds a catchy guitar riff.
07.What: sounding surreally like James Mercer of the Shins mixed with the rangy backing vocals of 60's groups ("help!" like underscoring of the main line), Benson delivers a song that manages to mix "bitter" and "stirring" quite well.
08.Eventually: this odd construction manages to mix several different melodic lines and sections well enough to hang together for four minutes, during which Benson seems to imitate a Beatle or two-the first verse's lyrics and slide guitar most Harrisonesque.
09.I'm Easy: a manic uptempo tune highly reminiscent of the Cars (who seem well liked by the better pop minds of today for some reason, despite their decidedly mediocre music, and use of synth)this is none the less a decent rocker, if far from the best song on the album.
10.Pleasure Seeker: with it's middling minor key and similarity to Cream's pop tunes in some facets, this one is hard to categorise, though also not quite a tight enough construction to be successful, despite some clever rhymes.
11.Just Like Me: a slow tune a la Pet sounds/smile era brian wilson and containing some gorgeous high notes.
12.Jet Lag: a piano song that finishes with a wall of sound, it's musings on the downside of the travelling musician's life delivered in a McCartney-esque vocal. A demo of "Metarie" is included as a hidden track following this tune. // 9
Lyrics: The Lyrics on this album, while no Dylanesque prose, are brilliant, for there is a highly clever sense of rhyme and association at work here-the music is intended as pure pop-not taking itself terribly seriously-and the lyrics reflect that, often hilarious or just excellently constructed in the manner of McCartney and Townshend in the 60's. The lyrical-musical compliance is total.Benson's voice has steadily been improving since One Mississippi, and his musicianship-he supplied nearly if not every instrumental and vocal track-is stellar after the fashion of Sir Paul records like "Chaos and Creation... ". // 8
Overall Impression: As mentioned above, this record is among the stronger distillations of good modern pop, being very deep in quality (there's a slight dip towards the end, but the first eight (!) songs are of the highest quality. Now, Bensons Influences (impeccable, with the exception of the Cars)are readily audible in most tracks, but he undeniably makes clear advances on them. Simply a must have for fans of smart, energetic capital P pop. // 10