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splendid > reviews > 9/3/2002
Ben Kweller
Ben Kweller
Sha Sha
ATO


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Lizzy"

Buy me now
Listening to Sha Sha proved to be quite a challenge for me. It was not a matter of enduring horrid songs or a task of peeling back layers of odd noises and bizarre structures to find redeemable qualities. Heck, the first listen was even kind of nice, as I found myself involved in some hearty toe tapping and head nodding, eagerly awaiting another go-round at disc's end. Sadly, each subsequent spin saw Sha Sha's strong points diminishing and its weaknesses coming to light. Perhaps a great deal of the problem lies in the fact that Ben Kweller, as a musician and the rock and roll personality, has only slightly less marketing potential than smokeable herbs at a jam rock festival, and he tends to aim for the widest audience possible, resulting in a collection of songs that does everything but challenge the listener. The 20 year-old is indeed onto something here, mixing a Ben Folds/Rivers Cuomo endearing geek persona with a pop sound last seen dominating AM radio in the early to mid '70s, but something is lost between the bright idea and the its dodgy execution.

Where exactly does Kweller go wrong? While Sha Sha is certainly ripe with hooks and strong in stylistic concept, the songs are woefully one-dimensional and marred by immaturity. "Wasted And Ready" and "Harriet's Got A Song" are almost carbon copies of various points in Weezer's career, from the vocal intonations to the melodies to the tasteful guitar solos in the bridges. These derivative power pop songs, which comprise about a third of the album, seem to be the ones that are being pushed to radio -- which is quite unfortunate, as some of the other tracks show much more promise and originality, particularly the lilting ballads "Lizzy" and "Falling". In the piano-based tunes that make up the remainder of the album, potentially powerful moments are eclipsed by lyrics that seem more like attempts at cleverness than profundity.

Kweller possesses a pop sensibility to kill for, but there is no substance underneath the initial hooks -- nothing that would make these songs worth coming back to eight years (or even eight months) down the road. The result? An uneven album that downplays its few bright spots in favor of marketable pabulum.



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