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11 Years Ago: Ben Kweller’s ‘Sha Sha’ Album Released

Ben Kweller, Sha Sha
ATO Records

By the time 2002’s ‘Sha Sha’ came out, Ben Kweller was already well into a successful music career — and just 21 years old.

As a teenager, Kweller headed up Texas grunge outfit Radish (see their best Nirvana impression here), in which the teenaged songwriter was still honing his craft, penning the formulaic meh-rock of the time. After the band was briefly signed to a major and subsequently dropped, Kweller landed in New York City and launched a solo career. A self-released EP put him on the radar of the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando, who promptly invited Kweller out on tour.

ATO Records made Kweller its first signing and released a five-song EP, which featured three songs that would end up on the full-length ‘Sha Sha.’ Upon its release 11 years ago today, the record was met with mixed reviews, and most nay-saying critics cited Kweller’s derivative songs as its worst quality. But all criticism aside, it’s amazing to hear the one-time cookie-cutter-grunge songsmith take such a 180-degree turn.

‘Sha Sha’ features everything from piano ballads and balls-to-the-wall power-pop to strains of country and solo-acoustic folk. Remember, U.S. radio at the time had all but whored itself out to Nickelback, Staind and pre-meltdown Britney Spears. It was difficult to attach one genre to Kweller — and in some ways, it still is.

In early interviews, Kweller scoffed at frequent Ben Folds comparisons, though the similarities between the two are almost uncanny. (Ironically, Kweller would go on to record with Folds and Aussie songwriter Ben Lee as the Bens). Certainly, one can also hear shades of Weezer’s debut, especially on the album’s super catchy single ‘Wasted & Ready,’ which reached No. 29 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

As far as debuts are concerned, ‘Sha Sha’ is a loud statement from an artist virtually unknown at the time. Kweller has gone on to release a string of albums of varying quality, but this one found the songwriter at his most eclectic — and at his best.

Watch Ben Kweller’s Video for ‘Wasted & Ready’

Next: Morrissey's 'Kill Uncle' Album Released

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