Album Review: Loverboy – Brett Dennen

by Joshua Paul Greene

When I first started listening to Brett Dennen’s most recent release, Loverboy, I immediately began trying to figure it out.  This is his fourth record and his first since his 2008 full-length title, Hope For The Hopeless and being his first release in 3 years, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  A few minutes in, it quickly became apparent to me that I was taking the wrong approach.  On his past three records, the most recent especially, Brett’s stayed true to his own brand of singer/songwriter roots; his lyrics potent, his songs serious yet still danceable, and his vocals serving to deliver a message rather than act as an instrument.  This time around, Dennen has taken a completely different approach and I for one am loving the results.

From the moment I popped in the CD I realized that this would be a completely different experience than before. To me, this sounds like a first record rather than a fourth.  In contrast to his 2008 title, the songwriting on Loverboy is more relaxed.  It still touches on deeper subjects, but it doesn’t dwell on them the way that tracks such as “Heaven” and “I Asked When” did.  Usually an artist will take a few albums to develop a relationship with their fans and then begin moving in to the more treacherous waters but it seems as though Dennen has done just the opposite, starting with the tough stuff and moving towards the carefree dance tunes.  Songs like “Song For Leaving” do bring the feel back to heartfelt subject matter reminiscent of his older releases, but overall, the vibe of this record is closer to that of an up-beat outdoor concert instead of an intimate living room performance.

One way this record doesn’t feel like a first release, however is in it’s musical maturity.  Listening as a long-time fan, it’s easy to pick out Brett’s unique style in every single track, but that personality that we all love – the voice, the songwriting and the emotion -has been expanded ten-fold by an exciting new array of cultural genres and a creative amalgamation of strangely diverse themes.  In August of 1986, Paul Simon released Graceland and re-invented his sound, introducing cultural themes from around the world, most notably Africa.  From the reggae influence on “Can’t Stop Thinking” to the joyful refrain on “Sydney” reminiscent of South African tribal music, it’s clear that Loverboy is Brett’s version of that same transformation.

Another strong influence on this record is the doo-wop and soul records of the 60s and 70s from R&B greats such as The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.  Tracks like “Queen of the Westside” and “Must Be Losing My Mind” are a time machine straight back to the funk grooves of Stevie Wonder while “Frozen In Slow Motion” could have been sung by Marvin himself.  “Only Rain” also draws favorable likeness to The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain”.

Dennen made this album with the intention of “[…] making people feel good.” and to me, he did an exquisite job.  If you’re looking for something that’s a lateral move from his past releases, fitting the mold but failing to venture outside of it, this is not a record for you.  This is a record jam-packed with innovation and enthusiasm, bold steps in new directions and respectful homage to to legendary influences.  Don’t be fooled, it’s still the same Brett Dennen we’ve all grown to know and love, but this album proves to everyone that he’s not afraid move into uncharted territories where the grass gets greener and greener everyday.

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