Ben Kweller almost meets high expectations

Jill Brower

There are three things that Ben Kweller will never be able to escape.

First, there’s his past. He formed indie-rock group Radish when he was only 13, had a record deal by 16, and ventured out on his solo career at 19. Now, at 21, he’s already making videos for his 2002 release “Sha Sha.”

Second, there are the comparisons to other artists. You can’t read a Kweller review without seeing him referred to as a young Ben Folds, with undeniable Weezer-esque tones. This is with good cause, though, as many of his songs could easily be confused as being sung by either of these groups. Other artists have been thrown into the mix, too: John Lennon (for occasionally similar vocals), Beck (aside from musical similarities, the two look like they could be brothers) and Pavement (for their quirky, nonsensical lyrics).

And then, there’s his future. The critics and fans seem to agree that Kweller has lasting potential in years to come—whether they loved or hated this album. While “Sha Sha” is easy to love, and equally easy to hate, it seems more likely than not that Kweller to return with a more solid sophomore album.

“Sha Sha” is definitely worth hearing. After the first listen, Kweller begins to develop his own sound that goes beyond the Weezer-meets-Folds comparisons. Each song carries a different feel to it; some are piano-driven, while some are acoustic guitar; some are quirky and poppy, while some are mellow love songs; some are folky, some are alt-rock, some have a twang of his native-Texas; some of them even change direction mid-song, like “Harriet’s Got a Song,” which starts off sounding like it’s directly from Weezer’s Pinkerton album, then goes soft, and then hard again.

At first, the catchier tunes are the most notable ones on the album — and there are certainly enough of them to catch your ear. Starting out with the title track, “How it Should Be (Sha Sha),” and moving onto “Wasted and Ready” (which you’ve probably heard on the radio or MTV) and “Commerce, TX,” these are the tunes you will be singing in the car and in the shower. But how could you not, with strangely addictive lyrics like “Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti … I am wasted, but I’m ready?”

But this CD goes deeper than these few tracks, which could be written off as too pop or cheap imitations of other bands. The standout track is the last one, “Falling,” which features a rich piano melody, love-inspired lyrics and Kweller stretching his vocals just enough to give the song both upbeat and mellow tones. “In Other Words” also features heartfelt lyrics and a powerful chorus, plus more intriguing ideas, such as, “Butterflies are passive-aggressive and put their problems on the shelf … but they’re so beautiful.”

The only track that doesn’t fall in line with the rest of the album is “Make It Up,” which sounds almost like it was recorded in a garage. It also features unlikely Nirvana-like lyrics that are slightly…depressing. But don’t discount this track — its smart lyrics and raw edge will hook you nonetheless.

The album does not go without flaws, however. Despite Kweller’s years of experience, his sound still lacks the maturity of some of the artists to he has been compared. Still, that can all be chalked up to the fact that this is his solo debut, and it does seem likely that his albums will progress in the future. One thing the album could do without is some of the clichéd lines sprinkled throughout, like in “Wasted and Ready:” “I’m maxed out like a credit card.”

The expectations were high for “child prodigy” Kweller, and he came within inches of them with “Sha Sha.” But perhaps that’s a good thing — just enough room for improvement.