Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Benjy Ferree Redux

I keep coming back to this album (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee). Pitchfork criticized it for being too minutely focused on Bobby Driscoll. AMG faulted it for being a concept record with a muddled concept.

I'd say that both the PFork and AMG reviews are partially correct. There is a strong, almost obsessive, focus on Bobby Driscoll. And the references to Driscoll and his career/life are so obscure and insular that it's very possible to hear those references as muddled. There are, for instance, numerous references in the album to "pieces of eight" and "doubloons." I'm sure that for many listeners those could create some WTF moments. They make sense if one happens to know that Driscoll played a major role in Disney's Treasure Island. But Ferree doesn't spell it out, and he assumes that the listener is already familiar with the minutiae of Driscoll's life, or that listeners are willing to do a little research. Those are probably faulty assumptions.

But there's something doggedly thrilling about this album, akin to a three-page footnote in a David Foster Wallace essay, or Faulkner rambling on about Mississippi in a five-page run-on sentence. This album is either a work of genius or the most wrong-headed, misguided music you'll hear this year. I'm more inclined toward the former view, although I'll readily admit that it's a challenging and sometimes unrewarding listen. I've never heard anything quite like it, these glam blues, and although I hear the Jack White and Bowie and Freddie Mercury influences, I'm most impressed by the fact that Benjy Ferree has made an album that is, in many ways, without precedent. I'd probably give it five stars for its sheer uniqueness and for the doo-wop existential dread of "Fear," and then knock off a star because of those faulty assumptions.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

This is the smartest review of this record yet. To reap its benefits and truly hear the brilliance behind it requires multiple listenings in its entirety. Without precedent is right.
I still think the Jack White comparison is without merit: I feel every white kid with a guitar that was influenced by delta blues and Bob Dylan will forever be compared to Jack White from here on out due to the fact that he capitalized on it most effectively.