Ben Harper: By My Side

10 Oct

Ben Harper’s latest musical output is a collection of his favourite ballads throughout the years. As a history lesson in the musical output of Ben Harper it is quite interesting, but this is about the best thing that can be said for By My Side.

Of the kinds of songs that are signature to Ben Harper, his ballads are probably my least favourite. Because Harper is so clearly comfortable within the ballad format, he tends to rest on his laurels, producing songs that are trite and formulaic. But ultimately, this is not the greatest disappointment for people like myself: the Ben Harper fan that stopped listening sometime after 1999’s Burn to Shine. There was one truly exquisite moment at the beginning of Ben Harper’s career where it looked as though a truly great, innovative artist may have entered onto the music scene. That moment was the 1995 album Fight For Your Mind. This album is Ben Harper at is most experimental: vocally ambitious, full of musically diverse genres and a gorgeous undercurrent of melancholy. Unfortunately, Harper soon became enamoured with the bluesy-folksy sound that, while undoubtedly brought him a bigger audience, allowed him to churn out an endless stream of acoustic-guitar-heavy dirge. If there was any hope that “Crazy, Amazing” might have been a turning point for the better than prepare to have your hopes quashed: with its almost 80s soft jazz, mawkish sound, it is the last nail in the coffin of a once interesting artist.

By Tessa Clews

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