‘The Alternative To Love’ is a record that spectra of ears will enjoy. It is as polished as it is surprising. And as enamouring about life as it is dissuasive about love. It is a lovingly self-produced record that winds its way, lyrically, through a lifetime’s supply of romantic dalliances whilst never failing to hold a banner of shameless melody aloft.
As an album that might annotate a landmark in a musician’s life, it would appear that we visit Brendan Benson** amongst a period of heightened confidence regarding his musical capabilities. This is shown via the appearance of a liberal smattering of differential production techniques that at some points enhance the experience by either creating depth or a sense of intentional superficiality; for example Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ motif welcoming us into ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ opens up the volumes of layered mixing present, whilst the ticking clocks and clinking glasses samples that pop up here and there perhaps hint at a more dissociative mood (either that or a love for trivial noises). However whilst you get the sense that this confidence in new techniques strives for a clean demarcation of a new found musical territory – one which branches more into alt country and winds its way amongst merry splodges of synth twiddlings – the record does tend to lull in places with some tracks lolloping shyly back into the refuge of a Beatles-esque token pop/rock song. An endeavour that disappointingly and obviously attempts to reap from an already much ploughed furrow in the mythical field of pop.
Despite the dip (a phenomena that is argued to of plagued 2002’s ‘Lapalco’), all hope is restored within the discovery of the absolutely delightfully slurry ‘What I’m Looking For’, which lurks on the penultimate edge of the record. Whilst it is the perfect soundtrack of a thousand and one melancholy and lonesome evenings in with a £3.49 bottle of wine and nobody to discuss your disillusionment of life with it is also in fact a wholesome precursor to track that is so singer/songwriter sexy that one might be accused of getting a bit randy over it. The arousing allure of this (I use this word with caution) sublime track ‘Between Us’, apart from appealing to my ears and other bodily parts, begs the question: I ask you, does post-pop/rock really exist as a genre these days? Could this be part of it? Hmmm, well, it’s wonderful either way. And whether such a genre has tangibility or not, you have to concede at least that Benson is indeed a sickenly talented songwriter. How does he capture such generic self-woe so consistently and with such face-cracking charm yet without resorting to the complex ramblings into the psyche and warblings of distress that might be typical of Mr Conor Oberst or indeed the late Elliott Smith?
To summarise. ‘The Alternative To Love’ is an extremely finely tuned record iridescent with the tangy pop quintessentialism and euphonic ballsy-ness of Calexico (‘Flesh & Bone_’ in particular), late XTC, The Beatles and even (gasp) ELO. The album, as a body of work, traverses quite intelligently between the fast, the slow and the surprising with guaranteed heart and groin warming effects. A fan of Benson or no, you’ve got to face it: Benson is an inherently romantic old sod with a good eye for pop/rock mischief. And within the realms of ‘The Alternative To Love’ there lies an enviably adept sketch of the perennial difficulties that we all share in defining or grasping this quixotic notion of ‘love’ - or whatever it is you might call it. ‘The Alternative To Love’ therefore is a realistic, delightful and emotionally accessible record, one I know I shall be visiting late at night when I should really be sleeping.
8Jeffrey Onions's Score