Brendan Benson: Low Key – Album Review

Brendan Benson: Low Key

(Schnitzel Records)


Out now

Brendan Benson, one of powerpop’s master craftsmen, returns with his new album, Low Key.

When he was about to release his last album, Dear Life, just as the world locked down, Brendan Benson spoke to us of his newfound love for hip-hop, saying: “I like the different textures. I’m not always excited by an acoustic guitar sound so I go looking for other inspiration; sounds, textures.” That exploration continues on his new album, Low Key, on which he masterfully combines moments of the minor chord melodies that he is so well known for, a line drawn right back to the powerpop pioneers, with clipped beats underscore his new influences. The two sides of his coin now sit side-by-side perfectly and, when they come together, such as on album opener and single Ain’t No Good, work to add an even poppier focus to his songs. He uses it to bookend the album, returning with even more sheen on closing track Something A Little Like Home. On Dear Life, the shift was born out of necessity, of having to work in a limited space, but it’s given one of powerpop’s modern masters another tool to draw on.

However, as on the best of his work, the melody is King. And Low Key features some of his best work, some songs to rival his own classics. With much of it written and recorded during the imposed isolation of Covid quarantines, the album often explores that feeling of solitude. It’s pushed to the fore in song titles like People Grow Apart, one of the highlights of the album and in the lyrics to the wonderful piano-led I Missed The Plane, a song that focuses on a deep self-reflection of in examining a lost relationship, a topic that Benson has time and gain revisited, always with a bittersweet eye. “Spent my life looking down until there was no life left”, he sings, “Then I looked up to find no one with me”, before concluding that his only friend is a fly buzzing round in his room.

In the middle of the album, the only criticism of which really is that, at eight tracks, feels a little short, he drops a great and pretty faithful version of Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line, perhaps a fruit of the almost daily online posts he did from his studio during lockdowns, fielding requests. On Whole Lot Of Nothing, he’s mining Nick Lowe on another song that explores the feelings of being cut off from contacts. Images of cars with nowhere to go, keys without locks, and legs that don’t get out much, before he drops the line that hammers the situation home for artists. “The music just stopped.”

Those waiting for him to really kick in with Townsend windmill guitars won’t be disappointed when Whatever’s On My Mind, a song that pokes fun at self-absorption, kicks in, while on penultimate song All In, he lets the hip-hop influences back in with his rapped lyrics, albeit over a mid-tempo acoustic-based backing.

He has stated that he regards Low Key almost as a coda to Dear Life and it’s true that the two complement each other perfectly, but, given the quality of the album and what we know Benson can do, at just eight tracks, it’s hard not to be left wanting more. It’s a good thing that the album is one that deserves many repeated listens.

Buy Low Key here.

Follow Brendan Benson on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.

Nathan also presents From The Garage on Louder Than War Radio every Tuesday at 8pm. Tune in for an hour of fuzz-crunching garage rock ‘n’ roll and catch up on all shows on the From The Garage Mixcloud playlist.

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