In 2007, when Ladyfuzz kicked the can because they were too 2006 to live, everyone assumed it’d be the leggy blonde who’d go solo. Actually, everyone assumed it’d be no-one, because Ladyfuzz were basically terrible. But there, lurking behind the kit, Benjamin Esser was already dabbling. Six months post-breakup he had enough dabblings to start turning a few heads.
Turning his own head was more tricky, of course, as he’d shaped his hair into an arresting Vanilla Ice cube. This folic breezeblock sums up many of the contradictions of Esser’s career thus far. It’s not a trim made for ‘bedroom pop’ – his most common demarcation. It’s a dome of far-reaching ambition, better suited to getting on a big label and firing hits right down the gullet of the charts. This is his problem – partly indie-tinkerer, partly vested with real pop ambitions, Esser is the missing link between Jamie T and Frankmusik.
Is that a link the world is really crying out for?
He makes his stated pop ambitions most plain in his deployment of hooks. ‘Braveface’ spans the FM dial with an insatiable desire for novelty, from the Clash-like smash’n’grab of ‘Leaving Town’ to the calypso-tango of ‘Satisfied’, but almost invariably, the title is the hook, and the hook is cycled through
a zillion reptitions, as though he read the Dummies’ Guide To Having A Number One Hit and went from there. Likewise, the themes are simple (there’s actually a track called ‘I Love You’), though not always simplistic.
Sometimes he gets the pop part right – on the infectious Len-like ‘Work It Out’, the trampolining ‘This Time Around’ and the charmingly sunny ‘Braveface’. Sometimes the charm wears thin. ‘Headlock’ remains a sincerely annoying showcase for Esser’s habit of singing like he’s arrived from the Mockney Scenester Casting Agency and ‘Satisfied’ seems like a noble enough experiment until you realise how much it resembles
Bryan Adams’ ‘Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?’.
At his best, he’s a Bad Blur, which is still in the greater scheme, a Good Thing, but at his worst, there’s something oily and disposable about ‘Braveface’ that speaks of hair gel adverts and Curiosity Killed The Cat – the smug, radio-drippy end of the ’80s no-one’s ever considered reviving. There’s enough sonic meat here to
gain him fans, but not enough depth to build a fanbase that will remember him once he’s off the airwaves. Esser is hair today. He may not be hair tomorrow.