Ben Kweller is all grown up, and with this new album of his (self-titled, ATO Records, just came out Tuesday) he is poised to be spending a lot more time spinning in my CD player. His new album is an engaging and well-crafted pop gem that sounds best played loud in the open air. There’s a lyric that goes, “He is in the yard just washing his car, thinking ’bout his pretty wife, making lemonade with the KitchenAid, making him a perfect life.” For me, that pretty much sums up the feel of this album. Lemonade, outside, perfect life.
The songs consistently have these great builds and breaks that make me want to dance around and airdrum on things. There’s also that effect where I found myself somehow singing along on the choruses the very first time I listened to it. It’s got a recognizable quality even if you’ve never heard him before, but it’s eminently fresh.
While I have enjoyed the playful pop of his previous two releases, the thing that struck me about this new effort is the maturity of his lyrics. Ben got married to longtime girlfriend Lizzie in 2003 and together they just welcomed a little baby boy earlier this summer, so it’s not surprising that his songs nowadays dredge deeper relational questions and struggles than before. Whereas we used to best know Ben for the lyric “She is a slut but X thinks it’s sexy, Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti, I am wasted but I’m ready,” now he throws out lyrics that catch my ear and that I can relate to, about the everyday challenges and joys of real relationships, and of loving someone so different from yourself.
He muses to his gal on “Sundress”: “I wanna start going on a mornin’ walk, What about the days when we used to talk?” — and it just resonated as being such a simple and honest sentiment. Kweller relates tales of “passionate make outs and passionate freak outs” in the winding piano ballad “Thirteen”, and the stupidity of arguing late at night (“Lights on through the night just to get it right, A battleground at my feet, an unwinnable fight”) amidst the warm autumn harmonies of the lovely “Nothing Happening.”
But the album is also a touching and real collection of sweet, straight-up love songs (“She’ll never be in second place. I see it in her, I hear it in her, I feel it in her, I know it’s in her. She’s magic”) and old-fashioned desire (“Skin to skin in the salty river, made love in the shadows”).
As we’ve discussed before, Ben Kweller plays all of the instruments on this album and wrote all of the songs. That’s pretty impressive once you hear the variety of instruments he uses, and to such competent effect. One of the best tracks on the album, “I Gotta Move” sounds like something that The Beach Boys or The Monkees would be proud to claim, although Ben’s take is a bit more electric but still with that same deep goodness radiating throughout. “I Don’t Know Why” has just a slight edge to it that actually reminds me of Tom Petty (oh! it channels the melody of “Won’t Back Down,” that’s it), and there is a fun White Stripes vibe to the garage punk closer “This Is War.” There are triangles chiming, xylophones blomping, piano melodies and sublime vocal counter-melodies blending together, and maybe even a little cowbell. It’s a pop symphony.
Run – Ben Kweller
(opening track, great thrumming song — and do I hear a hint of Springsteen in those opening jangles?)
My favorite song on the album is still probably “Penny On The Train Track,” and Matt has that one up over on You Ain’t No Picasso if you want to preview it before you go out and buy the album.
And this one is just for fun, because you know I can’t resist when it comes to covers: