We all have artists that we find so endearing (even lovable) that they cause our normal critical faculties to cease functioning. Ben Kweller is one of those people for me.
The Texas native makes deceptively simple music, and he projects a gawky, boyish sense of wonder. But, like a young Jonathan Richman, and unlike Daniel Johnston, he seems fully aware of how callow he comes across. For him, innocence is a choice, a consciously childlike way of framing his adult life.
Kweller’s self-titled third album is his marital-bliss record, and its gentle sentiments might have factored in Kweller’s decision to play all the instruments himself after getting raucous with his band on 2003’s On My Way. Kweller’s solo move is reminiscent of Todd Rundgren, whose most-famous album, Something/Anything, combined a side of live-in-the-studio performances with three sides of its polar opposite: dense, layered, solitary multitracking.
On this album, Kweller proves himself to be an able, if unspectacular, multi-instrumentalist. His drumming lacks power, but these breezy, piano-based songs don’t really demand it. “Gotta Move” and “Nothing Happening” are sing-alongs so nakedly plain that most songwriters would be too embarrassed to record them, but Kweller doesn’t embarrass easily.
Ultimately, that’s a big part of his appeal. What other songwriter in 2006 could use “rock ’n’ roll” as a verb, as Kweller does on “I Don’t Know Why,” and not make you cringe?