Few of us anticipate the realities of life at a certain age. But one day we awake, and there we are — totally unprepared.
That’s the experience at the heart of the third album by Milwaukee’s The Mike Benign Compulsion. Here’s How It Works is scheduled for release on March 8.
“The album is about middle age,” Benign says. “The whole album is about that in one way or another.”
The album’s title refers to the realization that life turns out a certain way, and that’s just “how it works,” Benign explains.
The Mike Benign Compulsion consists of guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Mike Benign, drummer Michael Koch, organist and guitarist Joe Vent, and bass player Brian Wooldridge. They’re are all veterans of previous top Milwaukee bands, including Blue in The Face, The Wooldridge Brothers, The Yell Leaders, Arms & Legs & Feet, and The Joker’s Henchmen.
All of the group’s members have known each other for a very long time and none of them performs music as a primary career. Benign says they all share the experience of having a point where music was “really what we wanted to do with our lives.” But that’s never happened.
Here’s How It Works is the third album that the group has worked on together as The Mike Benign Compulsion.
After my first listen to the album — and after viewing the music video for the single “Haley Daley” (check it out on YouTube) — the work of a young Elvis Costello came to mind. The comparison was deepened by the inclusion of the song “Imperial Bedroom,” which references Elvis Costello’s 1982 album of the same name in exploring feelings of unfulfilled youthful dreams.
Benign confirms that Imperial Bedroom is one of his all-time personal favorite albums. Certainly Costello’s expressions of loss and resignation haunt many of the songs on Here’s How It Works.
Benign says that he and his bandmates realize that the potential of getting a “big break” is gone. But what continues, he says, is the desire to create songs and expose local fans to them in a way that will touch them and make them think while providing them with an enjoyable, quality pop-rock experience. Getting the most people to hear the music is now the key goal.
When you pick up a vinyl copy of Here’s How It Works, the first thing you notice is a photo of Milwaukee philanthropist and longtime LGBT supporter Joseph Pabst on the cover. It’s a riveting photo that fits per- fectly with the message of the album.
In it, Pabst is barefoot and wearing a rumpled suit while bearing an expression that looks as if he has barely survived what came before and yet is resigned to what the future might hold. Ken Hanson of Hanson Dodge Creative in Milwaukee conducted the photo shoot.
Benign says the original idea was to have someone middle-aged, nude and in a fetal position. The intention was to present a partial homage to Annie Lebovitz’s image of John Lennon curled up next to Yoko Ono that was published on the cover of Rolling Stone after his untimely death.
But when the photo shoots were completed, the band decided that the original idea was too dark for what the band wanted to convey. The original fetal position image is used on the insert of the vinyl version of Here’s How It Works, while the suited image is more appropriate for the The Mike Benign Compulsion at this point in the group’s development.
Benign says peak moments for the band have included the opportunities to open for musical veterans and idols such as Squeeze, Bob Mould, Black Francis of the Pixies and Marshall Crenshaw.
The band is not experimental or avant garde. “It’s straight-ahead pop rock ’n’ roll, and there’s an alternative aspect to it,” Benign says of the group’s music. If you are a fan of power pop, the more
rock-oriented edge of new wave, or simply solid, intelligent song craft, then The Mike Benign Compulsion is well worth an evening’s investment. You can hear The Mike Benign Compulsion live at the band’s album release party on March 8 at Shank Hall. The evening also features Milwaukee group Testa Rosa.
Here’s How It Works will be sold on vinyl in Milwaukee and will be available for digital download through the usual outlets, including iTunes and Amazon.
The Mike Benign Compulsion appears live at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave., in Milwaukee at 8 p.m. on March 8. Call 414-276-7288 or go to www.shankhall.com.