BRENDAN BENSON and the Well-Fed Boys with Matthew Barber at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Sunday (June 1). $10. 416-598-4753. Also BRENDAN BENSON at Soundscapes (572 College), Sunday (June 1) at 5 pm. Free. Rating: NNNNN
in the aftermath of grunge, Brendan Benson was hailed as the power pop wunderkind most likely. His critically lauded debut disc, One Mississippi (Virgin), seemed to come out of nowhere in 96. Then he vanished just as quickly.Just one of many casualties of the ever-popular "let's see what sticks" strategy used by too many labels in lieu of career development, Benson was unceremoniously cast aside. It was enough to give him a complex about his writing and performing skills.
"It was a matter of too much too soon," sighs Benson from his home in Belle Isle, Michigan. "When I signed with Virgin, it was all based on my songwriting - I hadn't really played much at all. The first time they saw me perform, they got a bad impression, which in turn made me feel bad about my own abilities.
"Then I wrote a batch of songs for my follow-up album and they told me I needed to write more choruses. They said they weren't hearing a single. So I went back to Michigan to try to write some choruses, and they dropped me shortly after."
After six years of silence - during which time Benson wrestled with writer's block - he's back with the more downtempo and introspective Lapalco (V2).
The enjoyably skewed songwriting smarts that gave One Mississippi its edge are still present, yet the frenetic attack has been taken down a notch or five. It's still guitar pop, but a much more refined version.
"When you have the people around you saying your songs aren't good enough, it has an effect on you. It took me a while to come to the realization that I'm not a pop star - I don't have the goods. But that's OK. I'm happy just being myself.
"I recorded the stuff on Lapalco myself - well, mostly myself. I had some production help from my good friend Jason Falkner. He's a great guy to have around the studio because he's always got some really good ideas, like 'I think we could use a fuzz bass part right here.'"
Lately, Benson's been playing host to the White Stripes' Jack White, who likes to drop in on his neighbour for the occasional late-night jam session.
"We haven't been working together in any official capacity," clarifies Benson. "Jack just comes over to my place sometimes to screw around a bit. You know, just having fun.
"We usually end up playing our new songs for each other, but now and then we come up with something strange. There was this dance tune we did that sounded like some Nine Inch Nails thing. It's totally embarrassing, so it'll never come out, but it was good for a laugh."