Published on March 3rd, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Brendan Benson – The First Four Songs
There’s an interesting new trend for music releasing in this brave, new Internet world that caters to our time crunches and shorter attention spans. A few acts, like Eamon McGrath, are putting out bite-sized, shorter digital releases that are only a few songs long, but intended to be part of a larger album, collected once they’re all released. You get a few of the songs at a time, and eventually, the whole album is available. Sort of like The Beta Band’s ‘Three EPs’ from back in the day, really, though more intentional.
It’s a smart idea from a marketing standpoint, because it helps fight the overall glut of music we’re being hosed down with. I get about 15 new albums a week, and it’s easier to digest a few tracks at a time. Rather than releasing an album and then watching it get swallowed up into an ever-churning, never satiated music hole within the space of a week, you can stay at the forefront a little longer with an ongoing project. Now, we can debate the importance of ‘the album’ as a listen, and I’m not discounting that. In some cases, I’d argue, that this method keeps interest alive for ‘the album’ as opposed to 99-cent iTunes singles, and you’ll buy the album at the end to add to your physical collection. If the material really all needs to be heard in one sitting to maintain its integrity, then you wouldn’t release it this way. You’re not going to release ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or ‘The Wall’ like this, obviously.
Whether you love or hate the idea, Brendan Benson is on board. Some might know Benson as part of Jack White’s other other other group, The Raconteurs, but he’s actually been releasing albums as a solo artist since 1996. His 2002 album ‘Lapalco’ is his best, a collection of smart, guitar-driven pop songs with clever lyrics and catchy phrasings. Like a cheekier Matthew Sweet. While pumping out serviceable albums since then, he hasn’t quite reached the heights that ‘Lapalco’ scaled. Though he just released the album ‘You Were Right’ last year (which was also released in this piecemeal fashion), he’s back with a four song digital release, aptly titled, ‘The First Four Songs,’ which are, of course, intended to be the first four songs on a new album.
It’s a quick jam and a nice trek through pleasant territory, with some Beatles-esque writing and harmonies, but they don’t really grab you in any way. The first track, ‘Swimming,’ sounds lovely, but doesn’t inspire much. The second cut, ‘Oh My Love,’ has a better hook, but sort of drifts off to nowhere. ‘Purely Automatic’ has some energy to it, but becomes static quickly. And there’s another song, ‘Diamond’ that we might as well throw on the ‘meh’ pile as well. Where are the witty lyrics and golden hooks that he used to throw around with reckless abandon? It seems like Benson is on autopilot, or shall I say, running ‘purely automatic?’ See what I did there? It’s more than he’s bothering with.
There’s nothing wrong with this collection of songs from Benson, but there’s nothing stellar about it either. Unless you’re a big fan and gasping and clutching for new material, then why would you want to hear this, rather than just throwing on ‘Lapalco’ or ‘One Mississippi’? And if you hate the idea of releasing music this way because you’re an album purist, you’re probably in luck. Disposable music like this is your biggest argument. The danger of releasing in parts is that when ‘the first four songs’ don’t draw listeners in, then who cares about the rest of the releases? I still like the idea of releasing this way, but it can’t be an excuse to pump out shittier material faster. If anything, it should provide you with focus. We’ll see what the rest of Benson’s output looks like, but I won’t bother going back to that well again. I’ll just go back to ‘Lapalco,’ an album that was well conceived of and brilliantly executed.