'My Old, Familiar Friend' feels like it comes long while after Brendan Benson's last solo release. After the release of 'The Alternative To Love', Benson recorded with Jack White as part of The Raconteurs. This, his fourth solo release (recorded in 2007, between the two Raconteurs albums), in places, treads very familiar ground. Benson chooses to bring little to no influence from his stints with the Raconteurs to the table, marking a very distinct difference between that band and his solo releases.
Those familiar with BB's previous solo outings will already have pre-conceived ideas about what 'My Old, Familiar Friend' will offer. For the most part, they'd be exactly right, as the album title suggests, much of this feels like a familiar friend even upon early listens. If anything though, Brendan's work is slicker and more confident than before. The quirky, disjointed feeling of parts of 'One Mississippi' have beenleft behind. The first couple of tracks could have been slotted in somewhere on Benson's earlier outings, but it's upon first hearing of 'Garbage Day' you'll realise that this album is something special. A retro tune, it could be seen as a power pop take on 60s soul,being led by punchy rhythms and fleshed out by strings. 'Gonowhere' is similarly polished, but far more in the singer songwriter mould.I hear Todd Rundgren influences, maybe a dash of Jeff Lynne, even a hint of Mike Viola (underrated genius).
'Misery' is absolutely classic power pop which could have been from the late 70s/early 80s golden period and challenged a band like Shoesfor greatness, while 'Feel Like Taking You Home' offers the album's first curve-ball. Nowhere as smooth as previous tracks, there are definite new wave influences at play, although with that 'newer' feel so much similar stuff has at the time of writing. Musically, I'd say this is a track where previous work with Jack White has left a slight influnce.
'Poised and Ready' could've fit in easily on any of BB's earlier albums - classic drum-led power pop with all the relevent key changes; imagine Jellyfish's noisier side meets a pre-county music Ben Kweller and you get the picture. The Jellyfish influences carry through even farther on 'Don't Wanna Talk' with it's marching on the spot feel and 'la la la' choruses. If I had to pick one song from the album to demonstrate what Brendan Benson does best, this would be the one. 'You Made a Fool Out of Me', is the closest the album gets to acoustic singer-songwriter, which again, while classic Benson, still reminds me of Mike Viola during his more reflective moments.
'Old Familiar Friend' may not quite match 'Lapalco' to be Brendan Benson's best solo album, but it's a definite contender for one of the best of 2009.