What happens when you take a great song from a great album and play around with it? Not much, except for a reminder of what made the song so good in the first place, as is the case with Metarie, the new EP on Startime International from Brendan Benson and The Wellfed Boys. Both “Metarie” and “You’re Quiet,” originally on Benson’s second album, Lapalco, are revisited and reworked. Berkely, Cal.-based Benson, joined for the first time on an album with his touring band, has some fun with old favorites, and should certainly be praised for injecting new life into old songs. But revision does not always equal improvement. A new song, “Alternative to Love,” and a Wings cover, “Roll With Me,” pad the record, but little can cover up the fact the EP is meant to be a treat for faithful Benson fans who are eagerly awaiting a new album with a new backup band.
Who else besides devoted fans would appreciate not one but two altered versions of “Metarie,” the slow-moving yet incredibly touching ballad? And appreciate them not because they are better songs, but because their downfalls reveal what made the original so remarkable in the first place? Both the new version, with backing by the Wellfed Boys, and the UK version make their first mistake by stepping up the tempo. The new versions, instead of slowly meandering through the mind of Joe-recently-rejected-Shmoe, are propelled forward, adding a sense of urgency that is both out of place and unnecessary. The chorus, originally a somber moment of understanding, is instead a light-hearted moment of overcoming, with Benson singing newly added lines including “And I was bad/ And I was weak/ And my conscience sprung a leak/ And now its time I confess.” Benson himself has admitted that neither of the new versions matches the original, proving that sometimes a mistake-addled original can capture the moment better than any redo.
Recording with his touring band rather than as a solo artist has certainly not taken away much from Benson’s artistic vision, but has instead added a new layer. “Metarie,” for that reason, was a poor choice for revision; its simplicity is what makes the original so poignant. “You’re Quiet,” on the other hand, is actually improved by the minor changes made by the band. The fresh intro is fantastic, nicely building up before breaking away into the Cars-esque track.
“Alternative to Love,” the only new material on the EP, was not particularly impressive on first listen; yet before long, in typical Benson style, it began to grow on me. But despite my hunger momentarily subsiding while listening to this track, as well as the reworked tracks, this EP is not enough to quell my need for Benson’s pop gems. His previous albums are works of art, and this is merely a work, a little trinket for his fans to play with as he and the Wellfed Boys prepare their next album.