Ben Kweller – Sha Sha

Ben Kweller
Sha Sha

Not many artists have scored a major record deal, toured the world, had a top 40 single in the UK, watched their band dissolve, and finally made a solo comeback all by the age of 20. Perhaps this unique experience is what gives Ben Kweller’s first album on ATO Records a level of maturity and introspection that is rarely retained by someone twice his age. Following up on the self-released Freak Out Its and his 2001 EP Phone Home, Sha Sha delivers just under a dozen sincere and quirky songs that run the gamut from finger-snapping power-pop to dynamic piano-driven ballads.
The quality of Kweller’s compositions are hardly surprising, considering how long he has been at work playing and writing music. Coming from a musical household (his father was friends with Nils Lofgren during Lofgren’s time with Bruce Springsteen), Kweller was proficient on piano and guitar by the age of 8. He started writing his own songs and won an honorable mention from Billboard Magazine in their yearly songwriting competition when he was 9 years old. At 13, the pop virtuoso started Radish with his first electric guitar, and the pop-punk outfit soon became favorites around the Dallas scene. (I was 13 at the same time and I believe that I was listening to Hootie and the Blowfish and thought a “scene” was something found in a painting.) Radish signed a much-publicized deal with Mercury records in 1996 and ticked off the string of accomplishments listed above before they called it quits in 1999. With Sha Sha, Kweller returns to his roots, crafting heartfelt and fun songs that take their influence from New York’s anti-folk scene.
The album opens up with the catchy, if not vaguely annoying title track, “How It Should Be (Sha Sha)” but quickly picks up speed with “Wasted and Ready,” which starts off sweet enough but quickly breaks into a crunchy guitar-laden chorus. The track stands out with just enough arena rock flair (given the bold declaration “She is a slut but X thinks its sexy”) to get your feet tapping. The middle of the album proceeds somewhat predictably but includes stand-out ballads such as “Lizzie,” a musical love letter, and “In Other Words,” where Kweller emotionally croons that “the butterflies are passive/aggressive; and put their problems on the shelf; but they’re beautiful” to a backdrop of rich piano. Sha Sha ends with the same strength that it began on with “Harriet’s Got A Song,” a piece that if plunked down in the middle of Pinkerton, even the most discerning Weezer fan probably couldn’t separate it from one of Rivers’ own concoctions.
All too often, either the lyrics or the music are good, but not both. This simply is not the case with Ben Kweller. He has composed devastatingly clever lyrics to go with music that completely rocks out, tugs at your heartstrings, or both. Check it out for pure fun, power, and junk culture references.