Thursday, July 31, 2008

CD Review: Benji Hughes "A Love Extreme"


Benji Hughes

A Love Extreme
New West Records

Imagine a collaboration between Beck, the Flaming Lips, Electric Light Orchestra, Badfinger, the Eels, Todd Rundgren, and the Beatles.  Maybe throw in a dash of Neil Diamond or Engelbert Humperdinck and various other influences too numerous to mention. Make it a double album, no less, with 25 tracks.  Factor in that the creator wants it to be "the kind of record you can throw on at a party."  Imagine that it works quite wonderfully, with lyrics ranging from the hilariously cynical to super sweet love ballads.  You're ready to spin Benji Hughes' new release, "A Love Extreme."
At the hilarious end is the rockin "You Stood Me Up" where our hero gets stood up at a Dairy Queen and while waiting for his date consumes a Blizzard, burger and fries.  There are numerous ballads at the sweet end but one of my favorites is "Girl in the Tower" which is set in the Age of Chivalry.  As a stand-in for Our Hero, Benji Hughes is a combination of mostly modern anti-heroic qualities: he looks like a younger version of Leon Russell with his shaggy beard, long strawberry blond hair and ever-present sunglasses, all of which obscure his face, combined with a Jerry Garcia physique.  
The straight version is that the album was written in Los Angeles with producer Keefus Ciancia in four months.  In a video interview with the two regarding the song, "Where Do Old Lovers Go?" Keefus prompts, "... When you were at that retirement home?" Benji answers, "I have a thing for mature women.  I don't we should get into that...."  They laugh.  And here I thought that was a love song that would resonate with anyone who has fond memories of old lovers.  Whatever the songs may or may not be about, both discs are fantastic.  Every song works on more than one level. Once heard the songs work their way into your brain, demanding to be heard again.  Its useless to try and name just one or two standouts.  
In the age of iTunes the ultimate subversion is for an artist to come out with 25 tracks on two CD's that are all great. It undermines the reason iTunes exists: most albums only have one or two good songs so why pay for the whole album when you can only buy the good song for 99 cents?  In this case if you bought the good songs you'd pay $25 whereas the album retails for a heck of a lot less.  Either way Benji Hughes has the last laugh because you can tell that not only does he have a hit album but he had a helluva a good time making it.  

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