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Harper a throwback – in the best sense

The Will to Live
The Will to Live
By Ben Harper

Virgin Music; Beverly Hills, Calif.: 1997

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This review first appeared in the July 26, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

Ben Harper is a bit of a throwback. Not that that's bad. By capturing the spirit of experimentation that once marked the best rock, singer/guitarist Harper has produced an album that is both instantly listenable and able to hold your attention over repeated playings.

Harper seems willing to experiment in just about any format, from the structure of his compositions to the instrumentation. And he backs it all up with solidly written songs that have enough depth to handle all the weirdness going on. Yes, at times he seems to miss the mark and end up with gimmickry instead of inventiveness, but that's simply due to his willingness to at least try different sounds, differing approaches – it can't all work, after all.

Not that "The Will to Live" comes off as sloppy; far from it. It has a tight, cohesive feel to it. As with The Beatles' "Abbey Road," there's a sense of almost too much choreography, almost overproduction. It's a strange contrast of openness to new sounds, new ideas vs. an unattainable desire for perfection.

There's also a really neat contrast between Harper's sensitive singing and his powerful guitar work. It makes for a tension that lends itself well to the dark mood and topics of his songs. That same contrast also makes it difficult to slap a quick label on his music.

Power pop? At times, yes.

Folk? Elements of.

Rock? When he wants to.

Not only is there no label handy for his music, there is also no other artist one can readily compare Harper to, either. Whatever his music is, it sure seems to stick in the head for awhile.