Ben Kweller (ATO)
Reviewed by Andy Langer, Fri., Oct. 27, 2006
Ben Kweller shoulda coulda been the next Kurt Cobain. In 1997, The New Yorker told us as much in a sprawling, 10-page feature on the then 15-year-old Dallasite. The funny thing about hyperbolic proclamations of potential is that people only pay attention when you don't live up to them. To date, there's been no next Cobain. Not Kweller, not anyone. Even so, Kweller shaking the noose off with his third solo set suggests he's grown comfortably into a role that's undeniably less sexy, yet just as satisfying. Ben Kweller, self-titled because he plays every note himself, isn't just charming, confident, and smart. It might be the year's best and most unabashedly perky pop album. Across 40 minutes, there are toe-tappers, finger-snappers, and plenty of gorgeous ballads. The best tunes, such as "Nothing Happening" and "Sundress," are all three. The smartest, most timeless material here seems to have been constructed around sunny flourishes of piano, xylophone, and tambourine, but there's also some expatriate Texas twang, musically and lyrically; on "I Don't Know Why," he's "fixin' to loose it." By going the Stevie Wonder play-every-instrument route, it appears that Kweller's got something to prove. But make no mistake: Ben Kweller is breezy and buoyant, hallmarks of grand pop albums. And this is indeed a grand pop album. For that, consider at least some of Ben Kweller's potential fulfilled.