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Benny Sings
I Love You: Live At The Bimhuis
Sonar Kollektiv

It strikes me that there are two sorts of Phoenix fans: those who want to pretend like they're Bob and Charlotte and dance up a storm to "Too Young" (which, whilst we're at it, is a fine pop-song, but nothing compared to "If I Ever Feel Better," the true hit from that first 'nix disc); and those who love the Parisian gents on an entirely different level, the kind of sentimental dorks who ooh at every evocation of The Eagles and ahh each time they cop a lick stolen from Steely Dan, especially that so-Steely-it-hurts/ hurts-so-good number where Thomas Mars (whose name I just had to look up; how can a guy so outrageously gifted as vocalist/lyricist still be known as but "that dude from Phoenix (you know, the band, not the place)"?) sings "devotion's not the problem, it's me against a wardrobe" and it makes earnest/emo-ish boys with glamorous girlfriends feel both defeated and empowered at once. If that's the sort of Phoenix you love, then Benny Sings is singing for you; the Dutch dude makes with more of that ultra-heartfelt, extra-good '70s-AM-radio warmth, there being a song herein, on his second compact disc, that sounds joyously similar to that choice Phoenix jam "If It's Not With You." Here, on "Me and My Guitar," over a/his (Boogaertsy) guitar, dollops of analog organ, and a harmonica seemingly stolen from "That's What Friends Are For," the ubiquitous Benny croons a sunshining tune whose ostensible lyrical silliness — cutesy couplets like "But every time I tried to run/ Someone came and stole the sun" — belies a charmed lyrical message. The songsmith sings of wishing to not be so indebted to artistic artifice, and wishes he wasn't afraid of emotional/psychological exploration in his songs. Sings is singing something profound, contrasting with the song that delivers it; such singing speaks of the greater whole; such a song is that microcosm of this album's macrocosm.

On his second longplayer, Benny has taken an evolutionary artistic step, yet many people will read it as some sort of kitsch joke. As a beatmaker with a smoove-jazz jones/jonze, stepping to the microphone as a sort of self-conscious crooner, Benny seemed, on his debut Champagne People, to be but a Dutch counter to cats like Finland's Jimi Tenor and Sweden's Jay Jay Johanson, making a one-man fashion show to all sorts of careful programming. Here, though, those electro/jazz elements have fallen by the wayside, Benny bunking down with a band of hot players (jazz musicians, curiously enough) and singing his way through a live-recorded set copping all its groovy moves from folk like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Hall & Oates, and, yes, Steely Dan. It all culminates in a cut called "Make a Rainbow," where he evokes Disneyist/Muppetlike fantasias with a kitted-out chorus and chiming piano-chords; it's more of the spirit of Jim James' psychedelic recollections of childhood wonderlands in My Morning Jacket's hairy country-rock than it is the conceptual Cult pantomime peddled by the entertainingly meaningless novelty act the Polyphonic Spree. Benny tosses some sand in the Vaseline of the Vaseline-lens'd wonderland by having the chorus sing "Make a rainbow/ 12 different colors/ 12 new leaves will sprout/ to piss off the clouds," its final finale met by the most enthusiastic reception from the audience, whcih appears only intermittently on this disc's (professional) final edit. It's all the more beautiful for the way you hear Benny say, most gently, underneath it all — all but lost amidst the hooting and hollering, drowning in rapture — "I love you." Yeah, me too.

by Anthony Carew

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