On My Way
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by John Metzger
Do lyrics really matter or is it the music that surrounds them that is more important? Fortunately for Ben Kweller, history has proven that in the world of mega-selling pop singles, the more infectious a songís melody happens to be, the less essential its poetic leanings become. Indeed, on his sophomore effort On My Way, there are few, if any, insightful or clever commentaries to be found. Instead, his compositions are mired within a parade of prototypical, post-adolescent musings of the sort that are stuffed to the brim with angst-filled isolation, self-flagellation, and a mixture of hopelessly unrequited love and sensitive-guy romanticism. Even so, the collection proves to be an extraordinarily endearing set, largely because producer Ethan Johns assisted the 23-year-old songwriter in muting the otherwise awkward moments of his material in ways that transform the outing into something that sounds more refined and sophisticated than it actually is.
At the very least, Kweller has made steady progress toward finding his own voice ó an undoubtedly difficult thing to achieve, given that at the age of 15, he had been heralded as the next big thing while fronting the post-grunge outfit Radish. On My Way is another step in the proper direction. Like any young artist rummaging through his vast record collection in search of inspiration, he paints stylistic impressions of his heroesí music, borrowing what he needs and cobbling the pieces together in a manner that successfully unites multiple generations. Even if the end result isnít entirely new, itís still remarkably compelling. I Need You Back fuses the Velvet Underground with Phantom Planet; Hospital Bed makes a connection between The Beatles and Ben Folds; the title track is an homage to Bob Dylan; The Rules dabbles in garage rock; Living Life merges Billy Joel with Jackson Browne; and scattered throughout the disc are enough derivations of Pavementís catalog to keep Stephen Malkmusí ego afloat for another decade. Yet, despite the pilfered refrains and generally prosaic wordplay, Kweller fills On My Way with just the right amount of earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve emotion and engaging pop-fueled sensibility that on a tune like My Apartment, one could care less that heís merely singing about returning to the safety of his cat-filled home in New York City.
Of Further Interest...
On My Way is available from Amazon.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box