On his new album, Go Fly A Kite, Ben Kweller turns in a succinct power pop record filled with nuances that will have you reaching to listen to it again and again.
After a decade of recording and touring in his rear view mirror, the baby-faced Kweller, now in his 30s, is poised to make a jump to another level with this latest album.Overall, fans of the work of Nick Lowe will appreciate Kweller's mash up of pop, rock, country and hook filled songs on the record. Based in the guitar driven pop of the 80s New Wave, Kweller leaves the dense '60s orchestration for others making music in the pop vein for a more basic sound. Vocals and harmonies play a starring role, but over 38 plus minutes of music he presents 11 well-crafted pop songs about love, heartbreak and relationships.
Kweller kicks things off with a bang with the power pop rocker "Mean to Me," the album's lead single. With a liberal amount of crunch the song pulls you in with a gritty hook and the energy level keeps building throughout. Hints of classic rock, '80s and '90s pop peek through and the horns near the end put it over the top giving the track an anthemic quality.
Whether conscious or not "Out the Door" pays homage to the sound of Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Kweller seems to update Harrison's homage to Carl Perkins in his own songwriting as the country and rockabilly mixes with pop. The strummed layers of guitars, the jangly picked melody and sweet background vocals conjures ear memories of the ex-Beatles' solo classic All Things Must Pass mixed with the Jeff Lynne produced quality of Cloud 9 and the sound of the Perkins' Sun Studios recorded originals.
On the pop gem "Jealous Girl," possibly the best song on the album, Kweller takes on the jealous nature of a girlfriend of a good friend. The song's protagonist fights for his friend's feelings while giving advice to the offending significant other. In the chorus he sings, "Can't you let your boyfriend be himself?/Sweet Jealous girl, oh Jealous girl./The only one you're hurting baby is yourself." By the end he laments the loss of his friend to the girl, but reconciles it with himself. "It has been three years since you took my friend. He's been gone for good. I'm just sad that I don't even miss him like I thought I would." Arguably the best track on the album, a piano and acoustic guitar provides the basic structure as a jangle guitar adds color and electric guitar adds just a twinge of crunch.
The beauty of the album is its varied forms of rock and pop. One minute Kweller can go from "Free,” a slow, sexy '70s-style classic rock jam and then easily transition back into lighthearted pop of "Full Circle," complete with a bouncy piano part and a lyric about inclusion.
Slowing down the train near the end of the record Kweller shows considerable depth as he dips his toes into pop country for "I Miss You." The song, a melancholy lament about losing the one you love after they've changed, has a protagonist laying his heart bare for that person in some misguided attempt to get that person back.
One interesting aspect of the album the "instruction manual" that serves as the liner notes and lyric sheet. Most artists have a printed booklet with a lyric sheet containing songwriting credits and details about the recording process. Kweller, however, goes the extra step of adding the chord diagrams like the open "E" major chord on the cover of the album. Whether inclusion of the chords to the songs will create a boost in posts of YouTube videos by aspiring musicians covering Kweller's songs is unclear, but if you're an inspiring guitarist or just like to cover his songs, the liner notes will save you from looking up the chords online. Unless, of course, you're downloading your purchase from iTunes and you’ll still have to look them up.
As the album closes, "You Can Count on Me" moves back to the rolling train beat to chug the work into the sunset. Kweller reminds the listener that while this may be a new record he's still the same guy, "It's a sad day 'cause all my old friends have changed / I just want you to know that I'm still the same." As an older, wiser artist as he sings, “You should know that I won’t disappear on you.” A decade into his career, Kweller is still there writing some of the best hooks around.
Ben Kweller - Go Fly A Kite track list
01. Mean To Me
02. Out The Door
03. Jealous Girl
06. Full Circle
07. Where’s the Rainbow
08. Justify Me
09. Time Will Save The Day
10. I Miss You
11. You Can Count On Me
"Mean To Me" - Live
"Jealous Girl" - Live