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Ben Lee - Ripe

Ben Lee, Ripe

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BEN Lee’s musical career began in 1993 with the band Noise Addict, who were signed to Steve Pavlovic’s independent label Fellaheen Records on the strength of a self-produced and distributed four-track demo recorded in Ben’s bedroom.

Pavlovic’s connections brought the band to the attention of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Beastie Boys’ Mike D, both of whom released the band’s material in the US. The group went on to put out several releases on the Beasties’ Grand Royal Records.

But even as part of Noise Addict, Ben Lee pined for a solo career too and he began recording his first solo album, Grandpaw Would in both Sydney and Chicago with producer Brad Wood. Since then, he has risen to become one of the foremost singer-songwriters in America. His latest album, Ripe, underlines those credentials.

The album is a power-pop tour-de-force that celebrates love in all its forms – whether being head over heels smitten with someone, or just plain addicted to the idea of sex. What’s more, it unfolds with a knowing sense of humour that compensates for some of the cheesier moments (such as the decidedly average power-ballad Just Say Yes, with its “love is a reason to exist” chorus).

For the most part, though, it’s a great listen – upbeat, vibrant and feelgood. Album opener Love Me Like The World Is Ending sets the standard, gushing forth with positivity and the warm glow of an artist determined to enable the world to bask in his joy.

American Television is another immediate highlight, complete with cracking chorus and lively “whoo, hoo”-ing during the chorus, and a classic American sensibility that bears favourable comparisons with artists like Fountains Of Wayne and Tom Petty.

Birds & Bees is a fun duet with Mandy Moore, complete with sliding guitar weaving its way in and out of lyrics that include “I get the feeling that everyone’s feeling the same, that somebody somewhere should be calling their name”. It’s a hopelessly cute ode to sex and longing – but it’s appealingly delivered (and could even grace a Broadway or West End stage with its boy-girl/Grease like style).

Is This How Love’s Supposed To Feel? is wrapped around a shimmering piano melody, much like the deliriously chirpy Numb, and What Would Jay-Z Do? harmonises Beach Boys style with some sparkling lyrics (just dig the chorus) and another keen sense of melody.

And then Sex Without Love positively bursts into life with the opening line “heavens above, sex without love, I thought you wanted me”. It’s a fun, cheeky ode to a one night stand that is superbly delivered and cleverly written. Strong, too, is Home, another upbeat ditty about another object of affection, complete with spikier guitar riffs.

Ben Lee might not be the name on everyone’s lips in the UK at the moment but Ripe is the sort of album that could easily change that. It’s good to find a singer-songwriter who’s not afraid to sing about happiness, even when chronicling the confusion of romance. For that reason, it deserves to become a massive hit for him as, clearly, he’s a massive talent.

Download picks: American Television, Birds & Bees, Sex Without Love, Numb, What Would Jay-Z Do?, Is This How Love’s Supposed To Feel?, Home

Track listing:

  1. Love Me Like The World Is Ending
  2. American Television
  3. Birds And Bees – Lee, Ben & Mandy Moore
  4. Is This How Love’s Supposed To Feel
  5. Blush
  6. Numb
  7. What Would Jay Z Do
  8. Sex Without Love
  9. Home
  10. Hungry
  11. Just Say Yes
  12. Ripe