2005 was an odd year for power pop, when three big names released albums of new material. As fate would have it these much anticipated releases by Teenage Fanclub, The Posies and Big Star were solid, but at the end of the day they were just preaching to the converted. Just the same skillful playing and songwriting being bought by the people that buy all the releases by these acts.
As it turns out the strongest powerpop album of the year was not released by any the old guard, but by Brendan Benson, who was following up 2002’s splendid Lapalco with a more assured assault on the pop charts. Fair enough, he still remains a comparative unknown, but it’s reassuring to discover that there’s still some artists that still believe in the benefits of the catchy riff, smart lovelorn lyrics and economic arrangements.
Compared to Lapalco, The Alternative To Love has a more produced sound. Sometimes you miss the looseness of Lapalco, but other than that the sound hasn’t really suffered. The choruses are slightly stronger, the melodies a touch poppier and while many will bemoan the more polished production, it still falls short of gilding the lily, which is no bad thing.
Although there is the occasional lyric which seems to have been thrown in just because it fits, the writing by and large is a thing of wonder, with “Cold Hands (Warm Heart)” and “What I’m Looking For” being particularly splendid and the title track is the kind of tune that Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow would give their jangly strumming arms to be able to write these days. “The Pledge” rumbles along with a quasi-Spectorish quality to it, which although may not be everyones cup of Darjeeling, I do find it strangely pleasing.
Taken as a whole, there’s little fault I can find with The Alternative To Love. It has a high tune rate, at under 45 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome and Benson is a pretty good vocalist. Sure the last track seems to be somewhat of an anti-climax given the quality of the rest of the album, but that’s unnecessary nit-picking, an okay track closing an album full of great songs. At the end of the day The Alternative To Love demonstrates that Jack White is right, Brendan Benson is one of the best songwriters of his generation.