October 5, 2006

Immaturity's Delight

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On his fourth release Ben Kweller gets introspective — but luckily not too deep. He slaps his own picture on the cover and self-titles the album: an artist’s signature — a seal of approval. On eleven tracks about himself, Kweller cranks out a pop album that stays charming the whole way through. He stays light and immature, and I’ll gladly think happy thoughts and rock out in Neverland as long as this record’s playing.
On Kweller’s 2002 single, Wasted & Ready, Kweller sounded like Stephen Malkmus singing a lost Beach Boys track: a fun song that embraced the ’90s — just like Weezer. On Ben Kweller, however, he takes a step further back in time and sings painfully catchy tunes that would have gone gold any year in the 1960’s. The opening track, “Run,” drives with piano, drums and heavy tambourine. The sweet nuance in the arrangement, especially in the snare, bells, tambourine and staccato vocal performance of the bridge, will melt your heart away. Kweller’s lyrics are simple and sparkle with a purposeful touch of naïveté: on “Run” he sings, “Since fifteen I have run everywhere you can run, but together is much better so let’s run, let’s run, let’s run.” No doubt, this album is a lot of fun.
On the standout track that moves with a driving rhythm and a fleeting melody, “I Gotta Move,” Kweller captures what it feels like to be his age. Kweller eagerly sings about being 25 and growing up: “I gotta move while the streets ahead are still sunny, fall in love with some honey, aw mama I gotta move.” Kweller isn’t saying anything new — but his words are real and his voice is too sweet to pass by.
Kweller’s attention to detail adds a necessary layer to this album. The harmonica solo on the otherwise slightly bland piano ballad “Thirteen” makes it a sweet tune that doesn’t bore. Likewise, the handclaps that appear only twice in “Penny On the Train Track” give the album a live feel that sometimes lacks on other albums made by one-man-bands. Although the rockers are always enjoyable on this album, the piano-ballad “Red Eye” soars past his contemporary Bens as he takes a nice lesson from masters Elton John and John Lennon. Kweller is not shy about his influences, but he is not a copycat. This album is not profound or progressive. Kweller makes no prolific statements about love or life, but he does have that magical quality to create something so familiar but impossible to find anywhere else.