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More Info:In 1997, with dreamy Ozzie kiddos Silverchair at their commercial zenith and record labels seeing dollar signs, an unassuming pop-rock trio from Texas led by teenage singer-songwriter Ben Kweller sparked a bidding war. As the dust settled, Kweller's band Radish signed with Mercury and released Restraining Bolt; the stately New Yorker magazine weighed in with a profile; and the world had promptly rolled over and fell back to sleep. Sha Sha, Kweller's 2002 solo debut on Dave Matthews's ATO imprint, captures an understandably cynical but not entirely sour 20-year-old. While Sha Sha can be broadly described as melodic, somewhat rickety, frequently acoustic, piano-laced pop--think Ben Folds with less irony--there are some twisted shadings. "Walk on Me," with its propulsive beats and cascading piano line, is a whiny and wide-eyed plea for mercy to a nasty lover; "Wasted & Ready" is built on a series of preposterous rhyming couplets ("Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti / I am wasted but I'm ready") while "Harriet's Got a Song" sticks to a hard-soft formula, alternating between white-hot guitar licks and little tinkling bits. None of the tracks on Sha Sha screams megahit, but Kweller acquits himself as a unique songwriter nonetheless.
Part Beck, part Jonathan Richman—but lacking the over-the-top chutzpahof either—Ben Kweller fills Sha Sha, his major label debut, withan overload of pop culture references and whimsy-driven vocals, bopping andsha-dooing his heart out. Sometimes it works—listen to "Wasted &Ready," destined to be an instant teen anthem with naughty nonsense lyricslike "She is a slut but X thinks it's sexy" (huh?) and "sexreminds her of eating spaghetti." When chiming Pixies-like guitar chordsare added to the mix, the song quickly, irresistibly, takes off.
Likewise, as Kweller sings on the stripped-down "Family Tree" "Youare my family tree/ Be good to me/ Take care of me," he's charming—andclever. Yet when he's busily riffing on "Planet of the Apes"or name-checking Jagermeister ("Commerce, TX") it's impossibleto tell if he's being ironic or if—like much of his generation—he'sa mindless cable-TV fed slacker.
This young Texan does have a more interesting pedigree than the rest of thelitter, however—he signed with Island Records and toured with the likesof Juliana Hatfield, Evan Dando, and Kristen Hersh—while he was still ateenager. Ultimately, the twenty-something Kweller brings to mind another goofyyoung Ben—the wunderkind of the mid-90s, who, once his voice changed, wasn'tso cute anymore. Does anyone remember Ben Lee? And—the question remains—afew years down the road, will anyone remember Ben Kweller?