The Alternative to Love
“What can you play now that’ll have me in tears and screaming for more?” Brendan Benson asks his lover in ‘Them and Me.’ The Detroit native’s new album The Alternative to Love is not quite the answer to that question, but it’s damn good. The disc kicks off with ‘Spit It Out,’ a first-rate piece of car-and-beach power-pop, and then embarks on an album-length catalogue of rock styles. Benson obviously has a fan’s appreciation for the whole sweep of rock’n’roll; ‘The Pledge’ is a Ronettes knock-off, complete with echoey drums and bells, and other songs feature a 70s double-tracked guitar line here, a bit of spaghetti western wobble there… there’s even a theremin! The result falls just barely on the good side of the line between affectionate homage and kitsch.
Benson has a pleasant, reasonably expressive voice, and his musicianship — he plays all the instruments on the album — is deft and capable. The thing is, there are about a million guys like Brendan Benson out there — shaggy, tuneful indie-rock dudes who can turn a phrase — which is neither a reason to buy this album or not to. He has had a longer road than many, perhaps — his 1996 debut was buried by Virgin during the waning days of grunge — so The Alternative to Love’s razor-sharp pop-rock with a twist comes as handy payback.