George Benson - Irreplaceable
Michael Schumacher could be no more suprised to find a 1.3L Kia Pride engine in his F1 car during the Monaco Grand Prix than I was to find a photograph of George Benson in a book on guitar players, which resulted in a bruised jaw, a look of confusion and a fleeting thought that maybe a six-string electric wasn't quite the shortcut to punk, metal and ballsy rock that it had always promised. Eddie van Halen? For sure, no argument there. Yenwg...Inngvay, uh...Ee-wing-gay Malmsteen? Unfortunately yes but this was before the incident in the first-class cabin. Jimmy Page? No question, but George Benson? The guy who wrote The Greatest Love Of All? The book would be all the better had it printed a photograph of Level 42's Mark King and he plays bass.
And yet, despite the feeling of dread experience as the CD drawer closes and the thought of eleven variations on The Greatest Love Of All creeps in like a phantom, Irreplacable actually gets worse as soon as the first seconds of music flicker through the hi-fi. The skittering rhythms, humdrum lyrics and Benson's own guitar playing, light like jazz, warm air or the ride in a cheap car, all indicate that George Benson, after sales of 40 million albums and eight Grammy awards, has decided that 2004 will see his comback with an urban/r'n'b album. Marvellous...
From the album's first moments, then through its second and subsequent moments, it becomes as clear as Benson's desperate craving to stay in the game that having got something of a sound, the album is not prepared to move from it come Hell, high water or a hello from the ghost of chart failure yet to come.
Despite Irreplaceable having a light sound that's as crisp as cold, white wine on its opening track, Six Play, it becomes not only clear but also blindingly obvious that every song on the album will hold this line unquestionably. Of course, much as I personally dislike r'n'b, it's still possible, however difficult to see what people might enjoy in it. With Irreplaceable, however, the writing sounds as though it had never actually taken place, with admittedly great sounding session musicians appearing to have done little more than all that was contractually required to ensure production of a cheque. The credit of 'Finger Snaps' given to Mike Hobbs on Six Play says almost everything that is required to say about Irreplaceable, signing away the passion, excitement and thrill of music in exchange for a shot at success. Over it all, Benson has delivered the kind of lyrics that suggest that years have passed since any talent he had was boxed up and put into storage, favouring the likes of The Greatest Love Of All, On Broadway and this album's Living Is Better Than Leaving, Strings Of Love and Missing You. By far the album's lowest moment, however, not to mention one of the lowest moments this reviewer has encountered in pop since the release of No Way No Way by Vanilla, is Stairway To Love, this album's eighth track, which is unquestionably and unarguably dreadful.
Where Jimmy Page wrote Stairway To Heaven and The Butthole Surfers wrote Hairway to Steven, George Benson turned his back on his ability to play jazz guitar in favour of writing and recording nonsense like Stairway To Love. It's such a dreadful title, laughably so, that, y'know, nothing more needs to be said. Stairway To Love...get him out of the guitar books and out from the same pages as Jimi Hendrix after writing that.