Album review: Brendan Benson’s You Were Right

Brendan Benson has been making music for over twenty years. His name is one that you probably don’t recognize right off the bat, but dagnabbit you should. Benson is a producer, singer/songwriter, and was (along with Jack White) a member of the Raconteurs. Benson has produced six solo albums over his career and his most recent record, You Were Right, is by no means short of brilliance.

You Were Right has a beautiful mix of protagonists who take accountability for their own actions and make bold suggestions toward change. It has the highs and lows of any rocky relationship, it gives advice to those who fear confrontation, and it has a simple-rock backbone that makes it incredibly accessible.

You Were Right opens with a wall of guitar and bagpipe in “It’s Your Choice”, which has recently been featured on 89.3 The Current (and was the initial reason I heard of You Were Right).
Benson speaks of the harsh acceptance that must occur while emotionally and physically separating from a loved one: “It’s your choice, you can do what you want to./ And it’s my life. I can’t just take care of you.” Difficult consequences sometimes follow the choices we make, especially in close relationships, but Benson isn’t one to wallow in the aftermath of a breakup.

There’s a snarky feeling of forward progress in Benson’s music. The third track, “As Of Tonight,” amplifies the opinion of someone who finally decides to leave their partner: “If there’s someplace you’d like to be/ Someplace other than in my company/ Who am I to disagree/ So go on, I’ll set you free.” Benson gives people in difficult relationships the courage to do something about it, to get up and walk away if that’s what needs to be done. Something happened? Big deal. Benson says suck it up and move on.

Yet, despite Benson’s eagerness to accept separation and move on, a funny thing happens once the acoustic guitar starts chugging in the fourth track, “Diamond.” The protagonist’s attitude toward leaving his lover changes and he sings, “I don’t ever wanna be set free,” and, “I don’t mind being tossed around.” The progress away from the former partner gets turned around along with the protagonist’s pride and he admits that he can’t stand being alone. While we sometimes need to walk away from our partners, we often find ourselves walking right back to them – such is the continuing theme of You Were Right.

In the soul-crushing “I Don’t Want To See You Anymore,” the protagonist turns his back on his partner with a bang – I’m telling you, this track is ridiculously good. Benson whips out the soul when he sings, “You really didn’t mean, you really didn’t mean what you said/ When you were lying there, you were lying there in my bed,” and is accompanied by a thick, whining organ, a sultry horn-section, watery guitar tones, and a bassline that sweetly floats in the foreground. In the soulful style of Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz and the Tantrums, the protagonist accuses their partner of falsifying words and leading them on. So good.

Perhaps the most uniting song on the album is “Oh My Love.” Although the protagonist and their partner have unfortunately separated, the lyrics are immensely considerate of both sides’ well-being while implying that the two are still a unit: “Oh my love, we’ve got to be more careful in the future/ and know how much it helps to talk about it. Let it out.” Although the future concerns and emotions of the partner may not be spoken directly to the protagonist, Benson advises that both sides should learn from their lessons together and that they should not fear future confrontation with each other or with their future partners. It’s sad, honest, and beautiful, and it is probably my favorite track on You Were Right.

The rest of the album is incredibly enjoyable. “I’ll Never Tell” blends a slow, slinky reggae sound layered with eerie keys into an 80’s hard-rock chorus flawlessly. “Swallow You Whole” has The Beatles written all over it; a bright piano that launches into a mystified b-section that dips in and out of major and minor keys. The song slowly fades into the next song, “She’s Trying To Poison Me” (also Beatle-ish), whose horns take the piano’s reigns and beef up a simple song with brassy goodness. “Swimming” sounds like The Decemberists, Circa Survive, and Local Natives all combined, and the chorus harmonies (like all the harmonies on the album) are like butter. The theme of running around in circles after a fresh breakup never leaves the forefront of You Were Right, and Benson likewise never ceases his clever communitive witticisms.

You would be doing yourself a favor by listening to You Were Right. It was released in 2013, which might make it seem a bit outdated, but many great things come from the past and this album is certainly one of them.

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