Ben Kweller

Ben there, done that: Ben Kweller bypasses his trademark cuteness.

Ben Kweller could be America's answer to Australia's Ben Lee, who, like Kweller, made news in the '90s with his teen band (Noise Addict as opposed to Kweller's Silverchair clone, Radish). He also has a cute, moppish look, and purveys a gentle, slightly goofy, lovelorn lyricism. Except nobody knows who Lee is, outside of his girlfriend, Claire Danes. And even though B.K.'s naifish charm and impetuous rock instincts could sway a thousand incipient teen hearts, Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba (half as talented, more melodramatic, and without so much as an ounce of humor) has already cornered Kweller's ideal demographic.

Kweller's 2002 solo debut, Sha Sha, bristled with his typically lighthearted humor (he covered Vanilla Ice, transforming his signature rap into "B.K., Baby"), wounded innocence (like a younger Lou Barlow), and bubbling power-pop instincts. Unfortunately, Kweller's new disc isn't nearly as idiosyncratic or, consequently, interesting. From the bouncy, Beatle-esque opener, "I Need You Back," to the piano-driven, Ben Folds-ish "Hospital Bed," to the acoustic title track, the album's tight, assured pop delivery loses the gawky quirkiness that made Sha Sha so disarming. It's not a bad album, but Brendan Benson already works a similar intersection at the corner of power pop and upbeat rock. Kweller's trump card would be his good-natured cuteness, which he has apparently sloughed to chase a more grown-up sound and audience. And although Kweller's winning charm shouldn't be discounted, given his talent, it's difficult not to be disappointed.

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