A professional musician for 10 years, Ben Kweller is an ambitious, maturing performer who is now, at 22, an endearing mixture of coltish innocence and showbiz savvy. One minute he’s joyfully rolling around the stage mangling his guitar, the next he’s smoothly deflecting a fan’s screamed offer to direct his next video.
But mostly he concerned himself with keeping the guitars loud and the tunes sweet. His sophomore release “On My Way” (ATO/RCA) is about half lo-fi pop and half raw-boned rock; touring in support of it, Kweller gets to front the garage band most musicians form in high school.
The unadorned playing matches well with Kweller’s earnest, confessional lyrics. He writes of the comfort of his Brooklyn apartment and of busted relationships and offers common sense advise along the lines of “take your depressed friends out/they need a love to stay.” The predominantly young aud sings along. It’s not all that far in affect from emo, except that none of the Saddle Creek bands and their ilk have Kweller’s knack for writing catchy, insistent melodies. His best songs hark back to early Todd Rundgren and John Lennon; they come so easily, he can stuff tunes such as “Walk on Me” with two choruses.
He’s also not afraid to muss them up. Squalls of guitar noise erupt throughout; “Hospital Bed” ends with a chunky, extended jam that recalls the Velvet Underground. It’s an attitude best summed up when Kweller straps on a guitar and tells the crowd, “It sounds like shit, but it looks so cool.” He may be an accomplished and veteran performer, but Ben Kweller is still only 22; he’s just a kid and having fun.