Question: What do The Police, MUTEMATH, and Kings of Leon have in common with the song titles “Shake That Ass,” “Do You Wanna Get High,” and “Brake Light”?
Take your time to come up with the answer of absolutely nothing. Seriously, I’ll wait.
The answer, should this ever come up on a gripping version of Street Countdown, is Ben Union.
Citing influences of the aforementioned musical, seemingly-unattached, artists, Union sets out with VAMP to convince us that blatantly elementary song titles, often lyrics as well, are deserving of our ears and time.
I’ll be damned if he didn’t succeed. BIG TIME.
Taking a turn into the electro-funky breakdowns and beats that bleed from club scenes in any given metropolitan area, there is a digital swagger and presence in VAMP that almost becomes a guilty pleasure. What’s more, it is highly, highly infectious. Six of the seven tracks draw on pop lyrical content saturated in gold chains, dark rooms, bottle service, and questionable circumstances. “Do You Wanna Get High,” with the predictable chorus, draws on heavy bass as it circles light hip-hop auras. Followed up by the inexplicably successful “Brake Light,” it almost starts feeling like Union is thumbing his nose at wannabes. Lyrics describing driving while buzzed, with no insurance, and getting pulled over before reflecting on how this might have changed his life had it not been for it being, well, just a brake light takes the superficially generic content and spins it into an actual reflection that has to be a true story. Culling the glitz and glam of the opening tracks Union transitions into more of an R&B vibe through the end of the album. “Tough Love” and “Stop” do well to round out the sound in VAMP, even if it caps off with “Shake that Ass” and your new Saturday pickup song “White Road.”
All things considered, VAMP is a strong record that demonstrates a broad swath of musical talent. But then there is “Chain of Love.” Harmlessly placed about two-thirds of the way through the record Ben Union delivers a track that is as unforgettable as it is breathtaking. It is a song that digs so deeply into each staggering, or failed, relationship. It is taking that feeling of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what it all means, and putting it into nearly three and a half minutes.
At first glance, Ben Union’s VAMP is an album that is poised to fail on many levels. It does anything but.
VAMP is a trip through various, very real, emotions, executed in a way that is as fun as it is personal. It does not break into the realm of groundbreaking/industry changing, but I won’t call it phoned-in. As laughable as the concept of some tracks may seem, I find myself coming back to the record regularly and it is worth your time to find out why.
Greg is a co-founder and regular contributor of Nanobot Rock. He hopes to one day try his hand at Street Countdown, but he’s heard it can get pretty scary.