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The Daily Tar Heel

Benson Album Reminiscent Of Mature Beatles Pop-Rock

4 Stars

At a time when pop is usually associated with snot-nosed punks, vapid stadium-rock drones and singers who don't even write their own material, it's about time that we get a refreshing blast from the past.

Brendan Benson sounds like he came straight out of the pop rock spectrum of the '60s and '70s on Lapalco. It's not a far cry to say that, at some points, he sounds positively Beatle-esque.

Benson's music slightly resembles that of the Fab Four and other classic rock bands -- he sings short, lively songs about girlfriends, alienation and down-on-luck living.

The old-school ties are noticeable. In the early stages of "You're Quiet," he coos like Roger Daltrey did on some of The Who's early material. Benson himself seems like a Todd Rundgren for the new generation, a master of pop who isn't as acknowledged as less-deserving artists.

While Lennon, McCartney and the other legends have survived the test of time, Benson has gone relatively unnoticed by everyone save for a small but passionate fan base. Benson's debut, 1996's One Mississippi, was generally praised by critics but failed to get much of a commercial response. The less-than-enthusiastic reception nearly derailed the singer's career.

It took him a while to muster a second effort to capture the ear of America. But Lapalco is a great album, capable of gaining the type of recognition that he should receive.

This album is powerful indie-rock that is mainstream-ready, and Benson does so many things right. His songs are downright catchy and full of energy. He keeps listeners interested by changing the tone of his work -- some songs are hopeful, while others are rather gloomy.

The range of emotion in his tunes has exceptional musicianship as its foundation. The guitars crunch here and shimmer there while the bass and drums provide a fine sense of rhythm. One has to wonder why Benson doesn't give more credit to his band until one realizes that he is the band.

Aside from some help from Jason Falkner, Benson played all the instruments on Lapalco and wrote and produced the songs himself.

He doesn't miss a step with any of the 12 tunes. Several are immediate gems. The fantastic opening track, "Tiny Spark," instantly lets the uninitiated know what the man is capable of. It's a midtempo example of Benson's soaring vocals and melody.

Lapalco occasionally changes pace with several slower tracks that make the album a satisfyingly varied experience. The last couple of songs, "Just Like Me" and "Jet Lag," are ballads that show the depth of Benson's songwriting. But the album really crackles when he crafts superb pieces of faster power pop such as "I'm Easy."

These tunes are easy to sing along to, a definite rule of any pop music. They're perfect for concentrated listenings both at home and on the open road. Lapalco is the type of complete work that tends to remain in people's players.

Brendan Benson might not be the next John Lennon, but it's still possible for him to become a legend in his own right.

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