Monday, 10 November 2008

Benji Hughes - A Love Extreme

I'm very rarely bowled over by records these days. Sometimes I'm pleased when bands I like bring out good records, displeased when they bring out bad ones. Sometimes I take one in the ear for the team (as I did with 'You'll never play this town again' by Harry Pussy), and sometimes there'll be a one in a hundred record that I play until the CD melts ('Rook' by Shearwater). Very rarely there'll be an album that hints at greatness, but cocks it up a bit.

This is where A Love Extreme comes in. It's a beautifully packaged 25 track, double CD debut album. It takes stones and/or a huge amount of money to produce a debut of that size. Or maybe sometimes the money gives you stones, makes your own tiny rocks heavier somehow. Who knows? I do know money when I see it though. And this album screams expense, through the deluxxe packaging. It suggests vanity project, from the minor song doctoring to the appearances of well known session hands such as Joey Waronker. But there is material on here that backs up the grandeur of such a release. Even the filler is bearable, crafted and breezy. Go, as the Americans say, figure.

It's a crisp, happy, Neo-LA rock album. Everything is polished and smoothed in some way, not unlike a mixture of Steely Dan and Beck (the anally retentive reader will enjoy the subtle nod to the Very Best of Steely Dan in the cover shot). Vocals alternate between deep, rich and low, to high and lilting. Always beautifully harmonized when appropriate. And through both discs, little highlights emerge, through the lyrics and the musical delivery. 'You Stood Me Up' is a perfect pop single about a "non-date event", and I know saying that is a cliche, but it's absolutely rock solid and sticks in your head for weeks; all keyboard hooks and wry digs with a massive chorus. 'Tight Tee Shirt' is more of the same, warm and slightly leery, lightweight pop. 'The Mummy', a tale of booking a band for the prom is just as good, slightly more rocking. Another excellent single choice, with a clever Eagles namecheck slotted in for extra feelgood vibes. Benji's happy-go-lucky stoner persona comes across in a likeable enough fashion.

But the highlight is the devastating, maudlin 'Love Is A Razor'. As a minimal counterpoint to all the happiness on offer, this squeezes a reaction to an entire double album into one song. As the opening lines sighs out via a tight, almost cracking voice "Love is a razor.... It's cold and it sharp...and it's cutting out hearts...that glow in the dark" over a slowly picked acoustic you sort of understand why he made the album in the first place. You can't leave that sort of pain in your system. It kills you, and any amount of money that it costs to get it out is worth it.

What baffles me about this album is why they'd put it out as a double after the festival season had ended. This is a Summer album, jammed with Summery singles. To put it out int the Autumn is weird, but if you've spent a lot of money on a record and need to recoup, I suppose any release is a good release. In my fantasy life as a music impressario, I'd reissue as a single disc set (which is entirely possible, as both discs run relatively short) and get him to hit every festival they can next year, and put out You Stood Me Up as the first single. Maybe he'll pick up another band, tour, then hit the festivals. Probably the latter. We'll see.

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