by Big B
I know it's cliche - I know it's somewhat trite - but because Give Till It's Gone is Ben Harper's tenth (and final for this contract) Virgin record, I figured let's do a top 10 list. Why not? We're here - you and I - so let's take a moment and look back on BH's career. Plus, my pretty wife and I are going to the back-to-back Chicago shows - what better way to piss off the band before a show than to rank their artistic work...??? guh...
Let's rank his albums in reverse order leading to the best album he's ever released. Normally, I'd say 'good to bad', but because the man hasn't put out a 'bad' album (only Michael Jackson could do that - hardee har har), I won't. His tenth best album would be any other band's single greatest - their shining moment. For BH, it's another chronicle of music... at least that's what my ragged and rusty (and generally rummy - as in A LOT OF RUM) brain has to say about it.
Right or wrong, however heavy-handed or absolutely necessary this list is, good or bad (there I go again), here are Ben Harper's best albums in reverse order:
#10 - There Will Be A Light
Best songs: Where Could I Go, There Will Be A Light, Well Well Well
A certain crop of BH fans just slammed their fist into their 25" Mac computer screen. Sorry, guys and gals. But this Grammy-winning album is the least best of all the albums before or after. It's pure brilliance - let's get that straight. But it's gospel. And the ghosts of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix would be angered if I ranked a gospel album over rock albums. Actually, some of their favs were gospel, but that's neither here nor there. It's my *** darn list and this is the order.
#9 - White Lies For Dark Times
Best songs: Number With No Name, Lay There And Hate Me, Fly One Time, Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart), Faithfully Remain
*BEST ADDITION*: Spanish Red Wine (one of the best BH songs ever)
The members of Relentless7 are pure rock 'n' roll - these guys are ace. And that's what this album is - rock. It's dirt, punk, crushed glass, bad breath, stinky feet, sticky floor, beer gulping, dube smoking, unforgiving, nasty rock 'n' f-ing roll... and I like it. A lot. In an era of over-produced crap - you know, dance/house that passes itself off as pop (of which I listen to all of it - oops) - there came a rock album that kinda bent the whole place... like that corner piece of chocolate bar that had magic mushrooms in it. Just enough to smile one more time.
#8 - Burn To Shine
Best songs: The Woman In You, Two Hands Of A Prayer, Please Bleed, Burn To Shine, Show Me A Little Shame, Forgiven, Beloved One
Did I just name the entire album? Almost. And that's the point - who else's eighth best album has seven AMAZING songs and five others that you turn up the volume on your iTunes playlist with (my second Apple/Mac mention - I promise this isn't Apple/Mac marketing - I promise)? Please Bleed acoustic is like an atomic bomb dropping tears all over the world... bad metaphor, I know. But The Man said it better in the lyrics of the songs than I ever would or could.
#7 - Fight For Your Mind
Best songs: Ground On Down, Another Lonely Day, Burn One Down, By My Side, Give A Man A Home
I know it's one of The Man's biggest hits - if not THE biggest, at least in some cloudy circles - but Burn One Down is a song that only comes around once ever generation or three. It's an anthem without trying to be an anthem. It's about as easy to remember, lyrically, than any of The Man's others. For amateur guitarists (uh hem), the intro is easy and fun to play. Plus, when you've got a thumb-sized spliff in your mouth while at an outdoor theater in Santa Barbara and Leon is standing four feet away playing that massive djembe and the cops don't give a shiite because, hey, it's California... the song takes on another meaning. Not saying that was me, but... actually, that's EXACTLY what I'm saying. Good times, noodle salad.
#6 - The Will To Live
Best songs: Roses From My Friends, Jah Work, Widow Of A Living Man, Glory & Consequence
Was anyone else pleasantly surprised when the last scene ended in The Fighter and Glory & Consequence played over the credits? Ah ha! Very niiice... Made the movie better, huh? Yup! Here's the craziest thing about this album - he's got two... TWO... I say, T-W-O... songs on this album that he's started entire concerts with in probably the coolest possible way, yet the two songs are not the first song on the album. Huh? Let me explain... The Man used to start shows with Glory & Consequence, a GREAT way to start a show. Then in 2008, he started shows with Jah Work. This is major. Each Criminal would walk out, man their instrument, and start playing their part. It was three and a half minutes before The Man walked on stage... YEAH. That's right. More guh...
#5 - Lifeline
Best songs: Fight Outta You, Fool For A Lonesome Train, Heart Of Matters, Lifeline
Lifeline is one of the best BH songs, but Fool For A Lonesome Train might be, arguably, his single best. What a song! "Last night is still ringing in my head..." That describes every BH show I've ever been to, even when it's not supposed to. I don't think. Or was it? That's the brilliance. This album is pure mood, pure art in its highest form. It's like a master painter crafting his last great work in his gray period... a lesson in music... a lesson in art... a lesson in humanity, as much as music can be. That harmonica, too! Mighty, mighty harmonica! Bob did it... Ben did it again.
#4 - Welcome To The Cruel World
Best songs: Whipping Boy, Waiting On An Angel, Forever, Pleasure & Pain, Walk Away, Welcome To The Cruel World
THIS is how you start your career, man? My goodness... It kind of pisses me off because I don't think this is what music is about, but every time I've ever heard The Man play this live, at least four girls around me say, "He's so hot..." I get it. I understand that women like The Man... it's not that part that I dislike. It's the part they leave out. They should say, "He's so hot... and this song is so perfect because it's about the truth of love and life, and because it's not perfect - it's simple and real and remarkably poignant and one of my favorite songs." But they stop short. I guess that's why I'm married to a woman who says both parts, the second more than the first, but not in that cheesy fan way that I just did. Is that understood at all? Or are my pathetic ramblings only confusing you more. Fact is that the songs are treats to humans.
#3 - Give Till It's Gone
Best songs: Don't Give Up On Me Now, I Will Not Be Broken, Rock N' Roll Is Free, Feel Love, Clearly Severely, Pray That Our Love Sees The Dawn, Waiting On A Sign, Dirty Little Lover
When I first heard this album - the first ninety times - I was drawn more to the softer songs, which are really wonderful. Pray That Our Love Sees The Dawn is just a standout in every way - kind of a new turn for The Man. But lately - right before these Chicago shows - I'm turning on and up songs like Clearly Severely and Dirty Little Lover, the latter being my favorite this week. The Man is finally gelling 100 percent with The 7... finally hitting that stride where they know each other's strengths and play to every one of them. The result is one of the best albums in the last 10 years. It's still fresh on the mind and in the heart, but wait until we look back on a song like Don't Give Up On Me Now. In 10 more years, it will hit harder. In 30 - you know, rock's clock goes on forever - it will be a song that spoke so much truth that mild-mannered children across the world will shake and contort their bodies, bending their ears around corners and walls just to hear another bar, another lick, another word of that magical song.
#2 - Diamonds On The Inside
Best songs: With My Own Two Hands, When It's Good, Diamonds On The Inside, Amen Omen, She's Only Happy In The Sun
This is one of those albums that didn't really change music, but should've. Unfortunately, people are sometimes dumb. Hey, 'the world needs ditch diggers too' (Thanks again, Caddyshack). I know the world has changed. Of course it has. When John Lennon sang Imagine, it should've changed the world then. It didn't. It just became one of those few songs that sits on that untouchable cloud that people listen to in private and wish they were changing the world, but don't. Or do their small part and because the world is just so big and complex, it barely makes a dent. And I'm an optimist! Ha! What I'm saying is that With My Own Two Hands GETS IT. It's a guidebook, if you will. It's all right there. That's all one really needs to figure out the big things. Yet the world revolves and people try to do their best, some don't, and the world revolves again. But it's RIGHT THERE. And other musicians just don't write like that. Then there's Amen Omen, which is more than a song... it's an experience.
#1 - Both Sides Of The Gun
Best songs: Morning Yearning, Waiting For You, Reason To Mourn, More Than Sorry, Crying Won't Help You Now, Happy Everafter In Your Eyes, Better Way, Both Sides Of The Gun, Engraved Invitation, Gather 'Round The Stone, Get It Like You Like It, Serve Your Soul
This album represents The Man as a whole more than all the other albums. This reason, and because the amount of great songs on this double album, makes Both Sides Of The Gun THE best work of The Man's Virgin career. If you're on a cross-country road trip and you could only bring one album, this would be it - it's got everything for every occasion. Sunrise in the Utah desert (Morning Yearning)... Pull over in a gas station in Nebraska for cheesy crackers and energy drinks (Waiting For You)... Get in a fight (More Than Sorry, Crying Won't Help You Now)... Tearing through the Missouri hills and forests at high speeds while smoking a joint (Better Way)... 45 minutes away from your destination in Chicago (Get It Like You Like It)... and this is just one of many ways this album comes into play. More than anything it's the embodiment of the artist - it's his magnum opus - the top of the peak of the highest musical mountain. And this isn't to say that he doesn't have great work ahead of him. But where Tom Petty hit his ultimate high with Full Moon Fever, Ben Harper, in much different ways, did it with BSOFG. Sure, Petty went on to make Wildflowers, one of the greatest albums in music history, but that's exactly what I'm saying. The Man has more in him, and that more is great. But The Gun is it. If you need something from The Man, start with The Gun. Always. Every time. Go from there. And you'll be happy.