V2 – 2005 – 43 minutes

If the 1990s was the decade of pop for Irish music (durables like Boyzone, The Corrs and Westlife, fleeting stars like B*Witched and The Carter Twins), then these noughties are surely the days of the Irish singer-songwriter.

Before the hopefuls of the last 12 months, led by the seemingly omnipresent Declan O'Rourke, there was David Kitt, Damien Rice, Damien Dempsey, a downsized The Divine Comedy and dozens of others.

Indeed, if the global entertainment behemoth that is U2 hadn't dropped an atomic bomb on the charts in mid-November, people's favourite Paddy Casey's slow-burning 'Living' would have been 2004's best-selling Irish album.    

This Michigan man, then, is entering a potentially receptive if crowded market. Latecomers to Benson's support slot for labelmates Mercury Rev at their recent Vicar Street gigs could even have been forgiven for mistaking him for another Dublin songster, such is the latter's dominance of these kind of sets.

His performance, however, set him apart as a chirpier character than your average troubadour, something that's replicated on the majority of 'The Alternative to Love'.

Benson starts the record strongly with single 'Spit It Out', a song that sounds designed to get heavy daytime airplay. Next is 'Cold Hands (Warm Heart)', which is one of those curious creations combining lyrics of love lost with an uptempo tune, in this case aired by a catchy synth melody, and is probably the best song on the album.

'Feel Like Myself' and the title track progress matters in a similar vein. However, the quality dips dramatically thereafter, with 'The Pledge', 'Them and Me' and the abjectly dreary dirge 'Biggest Fan'.

This trio form a moody midsection to the album that no one asked for, and from which 'The Alternative to Love' struggles to recover. Only the 'White Album'-era Beatles soundalike 'What I'm Looking For' prevents the second half dozen tracks from consisting entirely of unlikeable filler.

Ultimately, Benson will need a stronger set of songs next time around if he is to endear us to his happy-go-lucky routine and join the packed podium of singer songwriters that make it big.  

Bill Lehane

Tracklisting: Spit It Out - Cold Hands (Warm Heart) - Feel Like Myself - Alternative To Love - The Pledge - Them and Me - Biggest Fan - Flesh and Bone - Get It Together - Gold Into Straw - What I'm Looking For - Between Us