It’s no mere coincidence that Brendan Benson recorded his seventh album, What Kind of World, at a studio called Welcome To 1979. Both the moniker and the all-analog mission of that recording spot seem to dovetail nicely with Benson’s aesthetic agenda. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t sound like it’s ready for 2012, simply that Benson taps into a spirit that harkens back to the power-pop heyday of the late ’70s. For example, one can easily imagine tracks like “Come On” working quite well within the context of a classic Shoes or Pezband album. Some other cuts, like the title track or “Light of Day” could be spiritual kin to the area on the rock & roll Venn diagram where power-pop overlapped with the classier end of AOR circa ’79/’80 (the guy does, after all, credit ELO as an influence).
Those who credit Benson with the poppier side of the sonic stew cooked up by the Raconteurs can probably make a pretty good case for that notion based on his solo outings, and What Kind of World is no exception. He sounds as commited to crafting the killer hook here as he does in either the Raconteurs context or on his own earlier efforts. But Benson is no one-trick pony by any means. “On the Fence,” for instance, is a distinctly country-tinged tune proving that at least some of the local flavor has rubbed off on the Nashville-based artist. And “Pretty Baby” shows that Benson is fully capable of eschewing winsomeness, getting a tad ominous and even a little sleazy-sounding. Hey, you’ve got to learn something spending that much time around Jack White.