We should all subscribe to Ben Kweller’s disarming ideologies. Let’s drop the pretense common to oversensitive, badge-wearing, 7-inch-buying, “I liked ’em before they were big” music geeks. Let’s forget about the makeoutclub.com kids. Let’s forget all about tweemo indie culture. On the unabashedly melodic Sha Sha, Kweller is the first to come clean. He’s uncertain about addictions to TV and alcohol; he’s confused about his attraction to slutty girls; he halfheartedly suggests meditation as the end-all cure. But for all Kweller’s self-doubt and balladic, piano-based pop catharsis there isn’t a hint of self-pity; for all his overexposed emotions, his corny colloquialisms and his (occasionally) wince-inspiring wordplay Kweller’s cynicism is nothing but sincere. (“The only thing that’s real are the kids that kid themselves.”)
The richly imaginative, off-center rhythmic hobble of the opening track, “How it Should Be (sha sha),” immediately sets the tone — the clunking piano and hushed, nonsensical daydreams grow out of their initial self-awareness and Kweller’s plain-faced honesty comes into view. His spirited writing outcharms knee-jerk comparisons to Ben Folds, Son/Ambulance and blue-period Weezer. When he mopes lines like “Though the press might shoot me down I’m still true” (on the Sloan-esqe “Family Tree”), the integrity of his lyrics are matched by the absurdly catchy melody.
On the record’s dizzying close, “Falling” — Kweller’s nod to Todd Rundgren — it never subscribes to lowest common denominators of emotion. Kweller never offers himself up as a sensitive artist ball of mush, a kid reading middle-school love letters and making mix tapes. Instead of songs falsely illustrating an idealistic world of glorious, cinematic love, he sings about the overwhelming highs and lows of realistic love in the real world. And he makes the real world sound beautiful.
Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.