Story by Danielle Findley
Photos courtesy of Third Man Records
Brendan Benson released a new album on April 24, 2020 titled Dear Life. Dear Life was a surprise, considering Benson has not produced a new LP in seven years. Benson’s outlook on his new album heralds his Good to be Alive single, which was a unique spin on his usual style.
“’Good to Be Alive’ is kind of weird, to be honest. It’s almost got a split personality or something. It’s totally bizarre.”, said Benson.
After listening to “Good to Be Alive” I thought the music was similar to his previous works, providing a chill flow style in the instrumentals, but the lyrics are anything but laid back. The first stanza talks about his senses which guide his perceptions about the love of his life. He really hits home by not talking about falling out of a logical relationship, but feeling the absence of love through Benson’s senses. “And my senses and my self agree. There is no you there’s only me.” The lyrics are well-thought out and deep because that’s a part of life; knowing there’s no reason to be unhappy in a relationship but still losing that interest. The rest of the song explains his feelings about being the only one who dislikes the relationship he’s currently in, but after deep reflection he’s still happy about his choices in life.
I thought this remains true to various relationships because many people will appreciate what they’ve learned from each other while being in an exclusive relationship, or look at the positives such as the happiness they’ve given each other or someone who understands you more than anyone. The end of the song leaves a cliffhanger, because it’s unclear whether he still decided to stay together with the woman or break up. “We came too close to the end. We’ll never be the same again. And I’ve been searching for that.”- Benson. I enjoyed this ending because it can take couples a long time to decide whether it’ll work or not, or decide to stay because of unresolved issues.
He shared “Richest Man Alive” on Youtube, and after listening I thought it followed a similar pattern with the other released song, “Good to be Alive” in the album Dear Life, and we got to learn more about him. “Richest Man Alive” is fast-paced and upbeat with loud drums and electric guitars playing in the background. The lyrics have Benson putting his family above everything else, which makes him feel like the richest man alive. Material goods wouldn’t replace the happiness he finds with his loved ones. My impression of this song was that it’s accurate to most families of today. The lyrics speak honestly to the heart, keeping the flow and providing insight to why families are so important to have. I love the part where he says that his family is the house that built him; he’s who he is because of them. I believe most families will say the same. “I gave you your name, but you gave me my life. And you made this house a home.”- Richest Man Alive
“I Can If You Want Me To” is a more alternative funk style of music, and one of his more unique-sounding songs on the album compared to his previous albums which are more alternative rock. He’s singing about a person he knows who doesn’t have enough faith in him. Throughout the song, he repeats the title, “I Can If You Want Me To”, trying to convince the person that he’s got what they’re looking for. This song can be interpreted in different ways because it’s not clear if the person is a love interest or friend, but I believe Benson is talking about a love interest. He said that in ‘Dear Life’ all the songs would relate to his own life. I interpret “I Can If You Want Me To” to be about his future wife played hard-to-get before their marriage, so he’s trying to prove that he can be her man repeatedly, hence the repetition of the title. I think this song captures the mood of stubborn relationships because while he’s singing the title low electric guitars can be heard in the background in sync with his voice. That gives me the impression his patience is running low and there’s an urgency in his voice and the music; he’s unsure whether to leave this woman he’s pursuing or keep trying.
“Who’s Gonna Love You” is like a continuation of “I Can If You Want Me To”, but now he’s married. Apparently, they’re in a rough place in their relationship again. These lyrics in the song, “How did we lose sight of it? Baby, you’re not that strong.”, makes me think he’s trying to reason with his wife. Then he tries to consider her points of their argument, but he disagrees. Benson is saying that he’s the only one who understands her and she will have no one else if she decides to break up. “Who’s gonna love you if it isn’t me?”- Who’s Gonna Love You. The music has a smoother, relaxing flow, as if he’s not urgent about making her understand now; like he’s about given up. The song speaks to the heart of any relationship and the tone is perfectly matched with the message.
Even though these songs aren’t in sequential order in the album, “I Quit” feels like an epilogue to the relationship. He’s only trying to make it right, but no matter what he says he only makes it worse. “Half the time I lose the plot, and I can’t see the point of it. If that’s all there is then goodbye, I quit.”- I Quit. The second half he realizes that he’s going to be ok. He’s still got it made with the life he chose. That’s what I love about ‘Dear Life’ because nomatter what happens he always focuses on the positive parts about any situation. I think this song best reflects that he lost the battle he was fighting but is stronger.
My favorite song in ‘Dear Life’ is “Half a Boy (Half a Man)” because it’s the only song that doesn’t talk about his life or relationships but himself. “Lord knows I’ve had my fun getting high in the noon day sun.”- “Half a Boy (Half a Man)” Unlike the other songs in ‘Dear Life’, this one is not about him trying to be the better person or talking about his good experiences. Benson is speaking the truth to his fans. He reveals that there is another side to him that people, (including his wife), should know about so they don’t get hurt. He explains the reason he hasn’t grown up is because he was lost with temptations that he couldn’t say no to. “I don’t stop, and I can’t say no. I get a taste and away I go.” It’s hard for people to reveal unadmirable things about themselves because they don’t want to be wrongly judged. Therefore, I feel like this song reflects Benson’s views about not trying to maintain a large fanbase, but he wants to share a side of him no one has heard of. His audience knows that he is just a human like them, and will make mistakes. Reflecting the motto of this album, he must be at a good point in his life to be able to comfortably speak about these topics.
“Baby’s Eyes” is his account of all the hurts and wishes he’s experienced, and Benson expresses in the song how he wouldn’t subject that kind of pain onto his children. I believe many families try to mask their pain and hurt for their children; putting them at the top of the priorities list. I can only imagine this song will be another relatable one to all good families everywhere, staying true to American values and experiences.
Benson considers this album to be more special than his others. “There’s something about this record,” Benson says, describing his Third Man Records debut album DEAR LIFE. “A friend of mine called it ‘life-affirming.’ I thought it was a joke at first but then realized, well, it’s about life and death for sure. I don’t know if that’s positive or optimistic or whatever, but that’s what’s going on with me.” I think this only confirms that Dear Life will subject the listener who hasn’t experienced love, loss, family gains or pains to a revelation of thought, insight, and perspective about life that they never knew before.
Dear Life will have 11 tracks and the names include: I Can If You Want Me To, Good To Be Alive, Half A Boy (And Half A Man), Richest Man Alive, Dear Life, Baby’s Eyes, Freak Out, Evil Eyes, I’m In Love, I Quit, Who’s Gonna Love You. From the songs he shared plus his artistic style of expressing himself in the past, I think this album is definitely going to be a catchy, upbeat one but also brings new styles with Benson’s music and lyrics where he speaks from the heart, making for a new and exciting turn for Benson’s career. I also believe this was a good decision for him and Third Man Records to make by producing a true and emotional album, because his poetic style works well with the idea of life. The songs feel like a real-life fairytale, succeeding in their attempts to enchant, provoke emotion, draw the listeners in and addressing major messages such as never forget the most important things in your life and good decisions can last a lifetime.
While under quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, Benson has postponed his spring tour in support of the record and has been posting live performances of tracks from Dear Life instead. Titled the “Boy in the Bubble,” the series can be found on his Instagram, posting every day at 5:20 pm E.T. For more information about Benson go on the Third Man Records website.
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