Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Ben Kweller – Fight

Former teen grunger’s career takes its biggest left turn so far…


Anthony Miccio: Poor dude. First his teenage grunge paled to Silverchair’s. Now his Gram Parsons cornpone pales to Conor Oberst’s. At least he has his inexplicably enduring career to comfort him.

Chris Boeckmann: I always pegged Kweller as a dedicated follower of trends, what with the 90s grunge band and the 00s quirky indie rock albums, but this latest sound seems to turn that idea on its head — and not in a good way. This song is stuck in some awful, uncomfortable middle ground between country-tinged folk music and full-blown honky tonk; it falls a bit closer, I guess, to the latter end of the spectrum, but it’s still too reluctant to fully embrace the yeehaw. That’s not even the biggest problem, though; what really makes this one of the worst singles of the year is Kweller’s lazy, dull, almost patronizing drawl. Can’t wait to hear it autotuned.

Anthony Easton: a) He spent a lot of time in Emory, Texas. b) Eventually most people who do singer-songwriter shit do a country album. c) He has been doing singer-songwriter shit for a decade. d) It is a little white lines style trucker song, but it refuses to be a rock-style anthem like the Roadhammers or Shooter Jennings. It is also not fidelitous to its text, like Paul Brandt’s odd cover of “Convoy”. e) The chorus sounds easily sung in a dive or a honky-tonk after way too many beers. This is vital and key. f) There are great lines, odd details, a certain charming erotic frisson, and a nice bit of semi-autobiography. g) There are bits of Kenny Rogers here, of Honeysuckle Rose-era Willie, but there is also some freakfolk, and some convienent Jesus, and some elements that are more cute then clever. h)Ii cannot get over the worry that this might be a city boy slumming, and have had to convince myself it wasn’t, and how I did that was to remember that it makes me a hypocrite to worry about authenticity in country but artificality in pop. i) There is enough here that should annoy or isolate, but I think I like this, but I am not quite sure how much? j) The text’s ambiguity leads to mine, perhaps.

Martin Skidmore: Most of this is great – lovely old-fashioned country with fiddle, honky-tonk piano and some really superb steel guitar. The song bounces along very nicely, though it is hard to resist suspicions (perhaps unfair ones) of ironic undertones, especially on references to God, from someone with a lengthy indie career behind him. The only real problem is that the standards of vocals in country music are so vastly above those in his former genre, and his voice, while okay, is not remotely in the country league. It can’t be a good sign when everything is terrific on your single except you…

Chuck Eddy: Feels fenced-in and willfully anachronistic; leaves its characters hanging in the wind, as if just mentioning them in passing was enough of a story. But does have some energy.

Alfred Soto: The tune is nice in that what-else-is-new way; what repulses me is how Kweller can’t split the difference between cornball and poseur. The trucker, the girl, and his own grandma exist as tropes he thinks he’s gotta use for authenticity’s sake. I bet he even wears his cowboy hat backwards.

Hillary Brown: It’s kind of Country Joe and the Fish, but minus any kind of prankster sensibility, or John Prine if you stripped out the intelligent content, which means it’s okay lo-fi country.

Jonathan Bradley: The churlish would accuse Kweller of carpetbagging, but to my ears, the former pop-punk prodigy’s transition to folk-country is as seamless as it is effective. The closest comparison would be to Conor Oberst in his most-recent po-faced troubadour mode, but Kweller’s take on indie country is more successful because he is earnest rather than self-serious.

Andrew Unterberger: He’s not quite as good at evangelical honky-tonk as he was at meandering, sarcastic love songs, but I guess I’m glad he’s still trying, and “Some days are aces / and some days are faces / well, some days are twos and threes” is actually a pretty respectable country lyric. Frankly, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Jeff Tweedy was moving to this territory within three or four years anyway.

Additional Scores

Alex Macpherson: [3]
Ian Mathers: [4]
Michaelangelo Matos: [6]

One Response to “Ben Kweller – Fight”

  1. this could have been anywhere b/w a 2 and a 9 depending on how i felt this week.