'Dear Life' Review: Brendan Benson's new album is a celebration of life, infused with his youthful energy
American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brendan Benson is set to release his new studio LP 'Dear Life'. The new record marks Benson's first in almost seven years and follows 'You Were Right'.
“There's something about this record,” Benson says, describing his Third Man Records debut album. “A friend of mine called it ‘life-affirming.’ I thought it was a joke at first but then realized, well, it’s about life and death for sure. I don’t know if that’s positive or optimistic or whatever, but that's what's going on with me.”
After spending most of his adult life touring and performing, Benson took a self-imposed creative hiatus to be with his family. Describing the decision in a statement, he says,“I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. I was so enamored with my kids, I just sort of lost touch with my career." He adds, "I just didn’t want to go back to work.”
A subject not spoken about often with regards to the evolutions of a musical career, Benson's down-to-earth choice paid off. It's as if he took the years of pent-up exuberance for music, let it age like a fine wine, mixed it with the youthful energies he's learned from being a dad, and let it all out on 'Dear Life'.
'I Can If You Want Me To', the opening track on the LP, comes with a musical kick to the gut. Following a buzzy vocal line on the intro, a crunchy guitar riff and thickened thrashing of the drums give off an explosive reminiscence of both Rage Against the Machine and Beck. We see a varied change-up in rhythms which don't let you define what's a verse or a chorus, but rather enforces you to keep paying attention, 'cause the rest of the album may go somewhere you don't expect.
Every few moments you hear a surfer rock resonance. On 'Richest Man', Benson makes known what he regards valuable: "One hell of a good looking wife" and "two beautiful babies" which he refers to while enjoying the ecstasy of sincerity and his own music. Complete with sunny guitar licks, a brass ensemble, and your hip-swaying beach fest beat, you can tell Benson is in his element and we are all for it.
'Dear Life', the album's title track gets a quick explanation. Travel back in time with some modern music equipment on hand, give it to The Beatles and watch their glee as they play out their excitement on fancy new setup. That's the sound and excitement that Benson seems to feel on this song. According to American Songwriter Magazine, Benson explained its inspirations. “I think it’s been a lifelong pursuit of mine to lean into the joyous side of life,” he says.
“Maybe I’m just getting better at it. Mostly, I’ve always sung about darker, more sinister things. This time, though, I went with lighter lyrics. I didn’t do it consciously, I think I just feel that way.”
Benson notably plays every instrument on the album, and reveals his versatility on songs like 'Freak Out' with its party-punk rhythm and the bluesy trip of 'Evil Eyes'. On the 'Dear Life' LP, Benson revealed that he wasn't “consciously making a record,” but the songs kept coming. He would get stoned in his studio and work on music simply because it made him happy. According to a statement he says, “I started dreaming again. Getting lost in the music and just letting it take me. Not being so serious, not thinking I was some sort of great writer or producer."
He adds, "I just enjoyed myself. I wasn’t racking my brain on how to from one chord to the next. I wasn’t trying to come up with the best lyrics ever. I was just having fun."