Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Revised Kweller Review for Class

Here is the updated version of my Ben Kweller review, which proved to be very difficult:

Ben Kweller’s third solo studio album, Ben Kweller, is unmistakably Kweller with his boyish voice, innocent lyrics, and piano driven power pop. Yet this album is more mature than his previous attempts. Not only does he play all the instruments, including the glockenspiel and the xylophone, but he no longer sings nonsense like “sha sha sha do” as he did on his first album, opting instead for heartfelt, autobiographical lyrics.

For those not familiar with the 25-year-old singer/songwriter, he was in the band, Radish, at the young age of 15. Radish was touted as the next Nirvana, but its initial success soon fizzled. Kweller released his first solo studio album, Sha Sha in 2002 and since then has retained a dedicated fan base, but he has yet to hit it big in the mainstream.

Ben Kweller, released Sept. 19 by ATO records, opens with the upbeat and catchy piano and tambourine intro of “Run.” The lyrics are reminiscent of a nursery rhyme—“Over hills, over dales, I’ll run with you”—but also deal with Kweller’s rock star on the run life as a teenager. The piano and tambourine hook, killer bridge, and overdubbed instrumentation result in a feel-good pop symphony. With “Run,” Kweller excels at a polished sound, a contrast to 2004’s raw On My Way, which was recorded with his band using no headphones or overdubs.

“Sundress” begins with restrained pensive vocals over the slow piano motif and gradually picks up speed with the addition of the guitar, leading into the carefree chorus. The infectious harmonies are trademark Kweller.

Kweller has written plenty of piano ballads and love songs, but he seems to have mastered this genre in “Thirteen.” Musically, the song is fairly simple, driven by a repetitive piano melody. The listener is left with nothing to focus on but Kweller’s vulnerable voice. Without the presence of an intro or chorus, the lyrics sound like a stream of consciousness about his wife with lines such as, “I kissed your dry lips/We jumped off the high cliffs and splashed down below/Skin to skin in the salty river.”

The bluesy “Red Eye” sees Kweller successfully experimenting with a sound he has never attempted before. His voice, usually shaky and somewhat screaming, is more controlled, even in moments of desperation.

Ben Kweller succeeds in improving his sound by holding onto his youthful charms. And that is what makes him so Kweller.

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