Questioning his taste in women, how happy he is, and What Kind of World we live in, Brendan Benson reveals some of the demons that keep him up at night. Lyrically inquisitive as his fifth full-length may be, unrehearsed it is not. By this time, Benson knows how to plan each power pop gem meticulously, with rhymed couplets and verse-chorus-verses that fall into one another magnetically like sticky fingers and cotton candy. Singing about the green-eyed beauty of his dreams, he melds phrases like “taste of blood upon my lips/the heaven’s sway of your teenage hips” together, making his poetry feel like a passing whimsy.
But what makes What Kind of World Benson’s best album since 2002’s Lapalco is the varied nature of the songs. Stepping out of the cookie-cutter orchestrated pop mold of his last two albums, he tries new wave and Broadway ballad on for size. The title track is an example of the former, which might turn the head of The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, while his balls-out crooning in “Bad for Me” is an over-the-top drama worthy of Elton John fans. Ashley Monroe adds adorable country twang on the folky duet, “On the Fence.” Album highlight, “Happy Most of the Time,” is an infectious earworm of bass growl and jumpy guitar jangle. All in all, it’s Benson’s finest yet—no question in that.