In the dim an distant past, before your Simon Cowells and X factors made it cool for the general public to essentially perform karaoke on stage, it was not actually a given that chart music would be some heavily synthesised assault on the senses with about as much connection to actual musical ability as Justin Bieber has to thrash metal. Bands such as Live; whose mild alternative credibility came from the hysteria surrounding ‘throwing copper’ but were, in actual fact, merely a very good rock band caught up in the hyperbolic alternative hype of the period; proved to be the perfect bridge between the melodic sensibilities of the mainstream and the harder-edged alternative bands that lurked beneath it, although the scene also saw the inexplicable rise of bands such as Nickleback and Creed whose cynical milking of the same formula saw them become huge despite their artistic bankruptcy.
It’s not just as a bridge that artists such as Live, Stone Temple Pilots and Chris Cornell worked. Their lyrically powerful, emotionally-charged rock struck a chord with many that remains to this day, and so it is no surprise that there are still some artists out there willing to try their hand at this most maligned of genres. Brad Benson is one such artist. Hailing from small town America, his is a story of hard work and determination – his self-belief leading him to quit his job and, in the words of G’n’R ‘move to the city’ in order to find fame. Failing to find the right band for his tastes, Brad simply formed a solo outfit and, over a period of two years, he assembled ‘Attitude’, a seven-track mini-album that started out as an attempt to familiarise himself with recording processes and ended with the disc you are reading about right now. It’s very much a mixed result, with Brad seemingly unsure whether to maintain his own unique voice (as he does on ‘the mountain’ and ‘R.I.P’) or to follow Nickleback to A.O.R hell, with the result that this mini-album does not impress as much as could be hoped.
Opening with a short into of jangling, echoing guitar which doesn’t really go anywhere due to a fade out rather than a segue at its conclusion, the first song proper on ‘attitude’ is ‘The Mountain’ which draws a line in the sand between Live’s ‘the distance to here’ and Led Zeppelin. The vocals are one part Ed Kowalczyk to two parts Chris Cornell, whilst the guitars mix up a touch of the Zep with hints of Soundgarden and Live to boot. Unashamedly melodic it’s the sort of thing that would have screamed through the charts in 1993 but which is now destined to be admired only by a handful of admirers, which says much about the parlous state of the mainstream music scene right now. It’s a highlight of the album and the momentum dips a touch on ‘no Friend’ which slows the pace and takes on the heavily harmonised feel of latter-day post grunge acts, throwing everything at the mix from piano to strings and even a stab at those horrible step-vocal effects which sounds no better here than it does on the cheesiest R&B. It’s a song familiar with every stadium-bothering trick in the book, including the wordless “woah-oh” closing vocals which recall nothing so much as Nickleback. ‘Scream’ is better with its acoustic guitar and piano work chiming nicely together, although it still sounds like the soundtrack to a thousand teenagers staring out of a rain-spattered window in early November and you start to wonder if the problem here is not the music itself, which is often well written, so much as the ludicrous amount of time the record spent in production, leaving plenty of time to add all of the aforementioned offending elements.
The album improves immeasurably for the hard-rock blast of ‘R.I.P (the ballad of Leebo)’, a track which shows off Brad’s potential with heavy riffs and a brilliant vocal performance. It is a fine track, and one that points to great things. Unfortunately the call of mainstream mediocrity is never too far away and ‘Tumbling down’ is a fast paced but ultimately overly familiar slab of rock complete with echoing vocals and huge chorus. It’s not, necessarily, that each and every record has to be unique in and of itself to be good, it is simply that the song seemingly runs through a check list of alt-rock moves for no other reason than Brad seems to think these things should be included. Thus we get heavily harmonised vocals, echo effects, a distorted (but not to heavy) lead part that emphasises the melody and so on, all of which are painfully familiar. Final track ‘Miracle’ heads back into Live territory with Brad’s flawless voice set initially against a lone piano, and even when the strings and band do (inevitably) appear, it is with greater restraint than found elsewhere. It is still shamelessly emotive, but with a greater power than the other ballads on the record and it neatly ends with the same echoing guitar of the intro, giving things a well-rounded feel.
Of the six tracks here (discounting the intro), three demonstrate a very real potential that Brad Benson could become a powerful force for melodic rock. Tracks such as ‘the mountain’, ‘R.I.P’ and closing number ‘Miracle’ all offer depth and power and there is no doubt that Brad has an exceptional voice. However, this is offset by brad’s desire to be all things to all people. ‘No friend’, ‘Scream’ and ‘Tumbling down’ are written to a major-label-approved formula of what alternative rock should be. There’s no real bite, just a whole bag of expensive production tricks. It is laudable that Brad handled everything himself, but perhaps less time in the studio and another band member to temper the desire to slather everything in strings and piano would help. A record that is really rather out of its time, you can’t escape the notion that ten, maybe fifteen, years ago this could have been huge, but, as it is now, the real test is in which direction Brad will go – towards the Led Zeppelin inspired (and far more interesting) hard rock of the better tracks or the more contrived, sub-alternative pop-rock of the weaker ones. Worth a look for those who crave well-produced, melodic rock with an alternative edge, but ultimately a bit too contrived for those in search of a successor to Live et al.