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CD REVIEW: Artist’s fourth album offers an ode to love Mallory McCall, May 9, 2011
By Mallory McCall Staff Writer
Loverboy Brett Dennen Dualtone Sound/Style: funky rock Listeners would also like: Neil Young, Amos Lee, Tracy Chapman
There’s a quirkiness to singer/songwriter Brett Dennen that is flat-out intriguing. He’s like that street-artist you dodge at first but then purposely make the block again just to hear another heart-pricking lyric crawl from his innocent smile.
Chances are you’ll either love him or hate him, but before you decide, give his new album, Loverboy, a listen. This is his fourth album since 2004, and unlike his previous classic folk, coffeehouse records, this self-produced 14-track compilation leans more toward the gritty, electric rock of the ’80s.
With long-lined melodies and clever rhymes, Mr. Dennen tackles the heavy subjects of love, death and pain, yet somehow manages to sound hopeful the whole way through. His high-pitched voice is sticky sweet and softly frail—which makes for a weird mix in the funky rock world. But strangely enough, it’s that delicate voice that anchors the sunny songs in a raw honesty.
And don’t be fooled by the schoolboy album title. Although Loverboy is clearly an ode to love, it’s not necessarily limited to the cliché summer romance; it speaks to several kinds of loves—romantic, friendship, love for yourself, love for the world, love for music, love for God.
The opening track, “Surprise, Surprise,” paints a colorful picture of the harsh reality of the poverty and disparity in the world around us: Grandma’s gathering aluminum cans in a rusty shopping cart / Born-Againers get their lives together / while the whole world’s falling apart. . . .
Some of them come up hard and hungry / stepping up to take your turn / some of them throwing their money in the fire just to watch it burn.
This peace-craving social commentary is more common in Mr. Dennen’s earlier work—like the popular songs “Ain’t No Reason,” “There Is So Much More” and “I Ask When,” but his new album embeds a broader humanistic message.
“This album is about having fun and letting go,” he writes in his brief liner note.
“Dancing at a Funeral” snaps, crackles and pops much like Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.” With echoing shoo-wops, this ironically lively song is a call to live life to the fullest: “We are getting older at the blink of an eye, so don’t let the moment pass you by.” The fun-loving spirit continues in “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog),” which is a cheerful root for the underdog—the broken-hearted lover, the straying friend and the defeated, crying on the bathroom floor.
Each track unveils another way in which Mr. Dennen is a loverboy, and “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” is no different. With a handclap-powered falsetto chorus, the song tells a story about a friend who got in trouble for something he didn’t do. Mr. Dennen was in Sydney,
Australia when he got word that his best friend back in California had been framed. Feeling helpless on the other side of the world, Mr. Dennen decided to write a song for his friend about standing up to bullies and being a good friend.
“Can’t Stop Thinking” has a reggae vibe and includes a horn section, a new element to Mr. Dennen’s music. Drawing inspiration from Van Morrison and Marvin Gay, Mr. Dennen swings from a full voice to somewhat of a screaming falsetto in songs like “Must Be Losing My Mind,” which has an old step-and-sway, deep-base funk and echoing chorus.
Sift through the 60 minutes of homogeneous jams and you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy. Loverboy may not be groundbreaking in the world of pop, rock, funk or folk, but it’s definitely a “feel good” album that celebrates God-given life.