For many years, Ben Kweller has been known for his quirky take on the indie pop that we are so accustomed to hearing. He’s had various hit tracks, fantastic albums, as well as performances with many other highly regarded musicians. He’s toured the world many times around, and seems to have come back with a different perspective on his music.
His latest album Changing Horses is a country and blues/roots infused affair which does nothing but portray a shallow cover for country western music.
While it’s easy to see the album title is a metaphor for changing music styles, which can be attributed either to a change of scene, growing older, or perhaps wsa a fermentation of the style of music he was brought up on (and where: Texas).
It’s harsh to say that very little of this album impresses me. Naturally, there are one or two standout tracks; unfortunately these pale in comparison to that of the overly cheesy and somewhat cliché sounding affair that he has compiled on this record.
Opening with the rusty and blues infused Gypsy Rose, Kweller initially impresses with his understanding of the music styling he’s adapting. While Gypsy Rose is a great first song for the album, it quickly loses its shine after it becomes evident the rest of the album sounds quite similar.
With an often changing time signature, the song becomes confused and somewhat frustrating as the impact is lost.
Kweller almost seems to be poking fun at himself with Old Hat. As ‘old hat’ is exactly what came to mind after I realised the second song could have easily run onto the first without much notice. The song is again slow, with the lapsteel guitar accents and the ballad style lyrics. Most of the musical parts throughout the album fail to impress due to their technique being relentlessly ‘been there, done that.’
Fight, also seems to poke fun at itself. With the terribly cliché lapsteel accents after each phrasing, it feels as if you’ve been transported straight into a Country Western themed Brady Bunch episode. After the chorus, the lapsteel guitar takes a turn with the typical western styling adding a ‘shave and a haircut – two bits’ rhythm that we’re all very familiar with.
The standout track (that I enjoyed) on this album is The Ballad of Wendy Baker. This song sees the return of Kweller’s traditional quirky indie stylings, with a great balance of the western/blues agenda he’s currently pushing. The song is quiet and beautiful, with a simple guitar accompaniment, and the lyrics seem genuine and honest. This approach makes the previous songs almost disappear, however the tripe that follows almost completely diminishes these few minutes of beauty.
Sawdust Man, is a honky-tonk affair that seems cheesy and almost crass as it follows the same formula as before. While it can easily be seen that Ben Kweller is aiming to create an homage to blues/western heroes past, it feels as if he’s poking fun.
While he is still young and has a huge career ahead of him, his voice lacks the emotion and timbre that is usually accompanied throughout this genre, giving it heart that one can relate to.
Rating: 2/5 stars