Alec Benjamin ‘Narrated For You’ – Album review.
By Mollie Campbell.
The title immediately foreshadows what the listener is about to hear, a musical narration… and if the music is delivered in acts, the songs are delivered in chapters.
Highlights: If we have each other, Steve, Boy in the Bubble.
The album begins with ‘If we have each other’, a poignant and mature viewpoint for such a young artist highlights the theme running throughout, the balance between the struggles of life and the happiness we are determined to find, and how it shapes us as human beings. ‘The world’s not perfect but it’s not that bad if we got each other and it’s all we have’. This is an insight into a songwriter who has established strength as a story teller at such an early point in his career, the potential is undeniable. Every verse is a story, strung together effortlessly…in the most rewarding sense of simplicity. ‘Water Fountain’ opens with a straightforward electronic drum beat and piano. Despite the interesting use of instrumentation in terms of the acoustic guitar being the focal point, you can really tell that the lyrics are arguably the main focus of Benjamin’s artistry…it is evident that at times there is so much he wants to say that he adds in another bar just to continue the depth of the story, something which tends to be lost in an ocean of monotonous structure in the modern music industry. The way he switches perspectives captures the idea of there always being two sides to every story… ‘But at that time she was too young, I was too young’.
Benjamin shines again in ‘Annabelle’s Homework’, with his strong use of metaphorical lyrics, providing a witty yet honest depiction of the contrasting depths to different relationships. “Doesn’t matter how many papers I write, end of the equation won’t be you and I and now I am just another who got hurt, doing Annabelle’s homework”. The chorus is catchy with a more laidback drum beat and soothing fingerpicking. The next track ‘Let me down slowly’, recently re-released as a duet with Alessia Cara, is a welcomed change from an album that was in danger of sitting within the same groove for its entirety. The electric guitar is contrasting yet still conforms to the gentle tone of the album, this track is a highlight in terms of building anticipation, and the lyrics have the incredible capacity to really transport the listener into the situation he is singing about. “Don’t cut me down, throw me out, leave me here to waste, I once was a man with dignity and grace, now I’m slipping through the cracks of your cold embrace, so please, please”. The lyrics are presented to us in a fairly standard way, but they somehow transform into a verse you wouldn’t be surprised to hear within a song released by a much more seasoned writer. ‘Cold skin, drag my feet on the tile, as I’m walking down the corridor, and I know we haven’t talked in a while, so I’m looking for an open door’.
‘Swim’ is somewhat of a step backwards, in the wrong direction… catchy yet monotonous. But it lives up to its ‘filler’ mentality in the exact way you would expect it to. ‘Boy in the bubble’ is one of the most impressive tracks lyrically, fairly simple again but effortless in the sense that we are interjected into the scenario, and to the extent that we feel as if we are actually in the room with the writer. “It was 6:48, I was walking home, Stepped through the gate, and I’m all alone, I had chicken on the plate, but the food was cold, then I covered up my face so that no one knows, I didn’t want trouble, I’m the boy in the bubble, but then came trouble”. And by using ‘Boy, you gotta tell me what they did to you’ I said, ‘You don’t wanna know the things I had to do’, She said, ‘Son, you gotta tell me why you’re black and blue” within the song really adds to the unique narrative and style of the album and artist. The use of his singing in an almost rap is different in a good way, it allows him to increase the word count in order to give us more of an insight, it also provides a fresh and energetic chapter to the book that ‘Narrated for you’.
‘Steve’ is easily the highlight of the album for me, musically simple yet astronomical in terms of metaphorical writing, the use of such a famous tale in order to present a much more important lesson in a modern way is very creative. The music is catchy and interesting in terms of structure and format and really pumps fresh life back into the album. The lyrics are unique and important: “Oh, you want what you can’t have, but you’ve got all the things you need, there was Adam, there was Eve and there was Steve, He said “Adam, don’t be a fooled by the snake, don’t risk it all for a taste, oh what a waste, to have everything and give it all away”. ‘Gotta be a reason’ follows the same message or outlet as its predecessor, with impressive lyrics and catchy music. A grown up narrative and tone provides the listener with a deeper insight into a younger viewpoint of modern life whilst still reflecting on stories of the past, intertwining the generations. “Walking down to the burial ground with a sad song in his brain, General Cloud is an old man now but it feels like yesterday, he was on the front lines, stranded on the beach, crawling to his best friend, floatin’ in the sea, but he didn’t make it, he still can’t believe, how arbitrary fate is, he says…” The interesting drum beat and trumpet adds another layer that was potentially lacking up until this point with the tone sounding somewhat bare up until this track.
‘Outrunning Karma’ is a masterpiece of storytelling in my opinion, it is hardly a work by Bob Dylan but it is still of a fine calibre. “Outrunning karma that boy, He’s such a charmer all the, Bugs and their larva follow, Him out to Colorado, Ten dozen hearts in a bag, Their bodies lying he’ll drag, Them down to Colorado, A modern desperado”. The words are almost haunting, accompanied by delicate yet impactful guitar tones and an accustomed drum beat, straightforward yet a growing staple of an Alec Benjamin track. The use of ‘Desperado’ accurately matches the folk vibe it is giving us, a tale of an old outlaw within the confinements of the modern world. The distinction between old and new is concrete but still bestowed to us as something that lets us blur the two together. The next track ‘If I killed someone for you’ is fairly similar to the previous song which doesn’t exactly help in terms of progression, but it is solid nonetheless. The lyrics are rather innovative and clever with another laidback compilation of sounds, and a sharp-witted middle 8.
The penultimate track ‘Death of a Hero’ begins with nostalgic fingerpicking, parallel with a comfortable vocal progression and honest lyrics. “That night I put my youth in a casket, and buried it inside of me, that night I saw through all the magic, now I’m a witness to the death of a hero”… Benjamin’s vocals are rather haunting as he sings these raw lyrics; he has the ability to let the listener inside, so intensely that it allows our emotions to mirror his. This is a perfect lead up to the final track ‘1994’, during the first verse it is easy to feel kind of underwhelmed until you grasp the nostalgia and depth to the lyrics. The words are very blunt and act as a running commentary, reflective of such a broad era in which everything was changing, he mentions the last of arguably ‘real’ MTV music and the impact 9/11 had on the world, “when the towers fell down, September’s not the same place now”. This is a wholesome track relevant to the writer’s life, an honest finale to an album that truly takes the listener on an authentic journey from start to finish, despite minor bumps in the road. But maybe the bumps in the road is what makes this album so good, nothing is perfect and if there is a problem with our society it is that everyone is trying to achieve this concept of ‘perfection’, despite that being an impossible feat…and as is implied in this ‘mixtape’, what kind of life is perfect?
Overall, the lyrics really strike me as honest, that is what makes this album so inspiring…there is no doubt that it possesses modern musical qualities on the whole, but the style of writing is so raw and honest that it really wouldn’t be a bad thing if people took note of what Alec Benjamin has achieved here. He manages to portray his own life and the things he has experienced in such detail and still somehow manages to tap into other people’s lives and experiences within his own little musical sphere. And finally, any young writer who manages to incorporate words like ‘arbitrary’ or ‘desperado’ into their songs deserves some attention, in my opinion of course.