Review of Both Sides Of The Gun Album by Ben Harper

Ben Harper
Both Sides Of The Gun
Album Review

Ben Harper Both Sides Of The Gun Album

Unfortunately, the dad from BBC's woeful "My Family" has not released his debut album, rather, this is the latest offering from the persistent U.S. singer-songwriter of the same name. Dammit. Harper has been around for a while now, in fact, he was already strumming away while Jack Johnson was still waxing down his surfboard and James Blunt was still dropping the soap in the shower at Eton. Wait- don't stop reading, he might have influenced these two tainters of our collective subconscious but he's not as bad as them. Well, not quite anyway.

The title of his new LP, "Both Sides of the Gun" sounds like it was cribbed from a Steven Seagal movie, which would be appropriate as it has just as much bluster with just as little substance. Harper experiments with many different styles on the album, from folk ("Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating"), to funk ("Both Sides of the Gun"), but never really hits the mark. Another example being opening track "Better Way", which with its Indian pastiche drones and percussion, sounds like something George Harrison would have left off "All Things Must Pass".

The reason for the songs' failure to really capture your imagination may be the lacklustre production. Many of the songs lack a real "bite", eventually just fading into the background, almost becoming dinner party "muzak". Promising moments like the anti-war folk song "Gather 'Round The Stone", are marred by garish guitar solos. The same could be said of "Reason to Mourn", which is initially quite affecting, but some incongruous shredding drags it down considerably.

There is no doubt that Harper is a great singer, particularly on closer "Cryin' Won't Help You Now" where he evokes Otis Redding with his husky croon, and his band are certainly watertight. However, there is a disturbing lack of direction on this LP which becomes increasingly apparent after every track.
As a soundtrack to surfing the internet, doing a tricky crossword puzzle or packing the kids into the back of the saloon and going to visit Auntie Flo, "Both Sides of the Gun" is ideal, the music will drift over you without leaving an impression, and won't offend your nearest and dearest as much as that Napalm Death CD, BUT, it does not stand up to repeated listening, as under its slick façade, there is not as much there as it would try to have you believe.

Still, it beats watching "My Family" I suppose.

Ben Davis