In a recent interview, Brendan Benson laughed off the title of My Old, Familiar Friend, explaining that it was plucked from a song on his fourth solo album, but wasn’t really meant to hold any greater significance—it just sounded interesting and provocative. While answering the question, though, he realized it probably refers to his return to putting out albums by himself: Playing with The Raconteurs has kept him away from releasing his playful, practiced power-pop for four years, but here he is, putting it on again like a pair of old slippers.
How odd, then, that so much of Friend is a celebration of aimlessness that, coincidentally, quickly loses focus. Things start strong with “A Whole Lot Better,” a song that finds electronic warbles giving way to razor-sharp riffs and taut drumming, while Benson claims relationships necessitate a doglike level of obedience and fickle affection. But what follows is strangely disjointed—surprising for an album that Benson leaked demos for on MySpace over the past two years. There are unexpected detours in the Motown-like “Garbage Day” and the overly saccharine “Don’t Wanna Talk,” while the clever “Gonowhere” and biting “Feel Like Taking You Home” benefit from the extra years of attention. But there’s little here to tie it all together. Trying to sound interesting and provocative isn’t the same as delivering.