Music has had plenty of generation gaps over the years: the gap between members of the World War II generation who loved the crooners and members of the World War I Generation who claimed that Bing Crosby couldn’t hold a candle to Henry Burr or Al Jolson (which seems downright ridiculous in retrospect), the gap between Baby Boomers who grew up on classic rock and classic soul and members of the WWII Generation who never comprehended those things, the gap between Generation X-ers who loved hip- hop and Baby Boomers who detested it. But there are also those who love getting their creative inspiration from different generations, which is exactly what singer/songwriter Ben Kweller does on Go Fly a Kite.
Kweller, who was born in 1981, has recorded as both a solo artist and a member of the band Radish, successfully brings together his Gen-X and Baby Boomer influences on this 2012 release. The influence of Ben Folds, Weezer and the Gin Blossoms remains, yet the pre-1990s influences on Go Fly a Kite really jump out at the listener. And they range from the Steve Miller Band to the Cars to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to the Beatles. Go Fly a Kite fits into the modern alternative rock/ indie rock scene, but pre-1990s power pop, roots rock, Americana, new wave and British Invasion rock are all part of the equation on this 38-minute CD.
Kweller puts his power pop instincts to work on “Jealous Girl,” “Time Will Save the Day” and “Mean to Me,” all of which do exactly what power pop is supposed to do: they combine guitar-powered passion and exuberance with poppy hooks and do so in a highly melodic way. The Beatles wrote the book on power pop back in the 1960s, and that John Lennon/Paul McCartney influence clearly asserts itself on “Jealous Girl,” “Time Will Save the Day” and “Mean to Me.” All of those tunes rock out, but they do so in a decidedly poppy fashion. There is also a Beatles influence on “Gossip,” although that track is more reflective and reserved than “Jealous Girl,” “Time Will Save the Day” or “Mean to Me.”
Other times, Kweller draws on his appreciation of roots rock and Americana. Kweller does that on “Free” (which is not unlike something the Steve Miller Band would have done back in the 1970s) as well as on “The Rainbow” and the melancholy ballad “I Miss You.” The jangly “Out the Door,” meanwhile, goes for power pop hookiness, but not in the Beatlesque fashion of “Mean to Me” or “Jealous Girl.” Rather, “Out the Door” is closer to the Byrds, with a touch of Paul Simon.
Even the album’s title indicates that Kweller is making some retro moves. There isn’t actually a song on this release titled “Go Fly a Kite,” but by naming his album after an old-fashioned expression, Kweller is sending out a message that he is acknowledging his pre-Generation X influences. Although Kweller wasn’t alive before 1981, this album makes it clear that he has spent a lot of time listening to a variety of rock recordings from the 1960s and 1970s. Go Fly a Kite isn’t an exact replica or carbon copy of albums from those decades, but there is no getting around the fact that it owes as much (if not more) to the Baby Boomers as it does to Generation X. This is an album that, stylistically, unites the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with the 1990s and the 21st Century.
Go Fly a Kite isn’t Kweller’s most ambitious effort; some reviewers have accused his of coasting on his talents. But if Go Fly a Kite is somewhat complacent, it is enjoyably complacent. And all things considered, this is a respectable addition to Kweller’s solo catalogue.