erasing clouds

Ben Lee, Hey You. Yes You (F-2 Music)

reviewed by john wenzel

You'd think producer Dan the Automator (Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School) and ex-indie prodigy Ben Lee would combine to produce some kind of melodic, experimental pop on par with Beck or other genre-blurring chameleons. You'd expect music that slathers the Automator's damaged rhythmic brilliance with irresistible pop melodies and simple, effective guitar lines.

You would be wrong.

Sounding like a nutless, wannabe facsimile of the already-nutless Richard Ashcroft, Mr. Lee drags his increasingly tedious voice through 12 tracks of bland, radio-ready pap like "Running With Scissors" and "Something Borrowed, Something Blue." The Automator does his best to liven up the proceedings, but Lee's adult contemporary songs just aren't suited to his touch. It's like forcing Gang Starr's DJ Premier to produce a Clay Aiken album: painful crap that wastes perfectly good beats and rhythms.

Not that the songs would be good in another context. Even if recorded by Bob Pollard on a 4-track, this shit plays like the work of a shameless fraud. The lyrics throw out faux-clever rhymes and clichéd sentiment with ferocious abandon, leading me to wonder if Lee isn't courting the pre-teen/TRL set at the urging of some tanned record exec. The brilliant flashes of melody that made Lee's teenage indie rock band Noise Addict (and to an extent, his first solo album Grandpa Would) so engaging are completely absent, replaced by grating repetition and sub-par background music that never delivers on its implied melodicism.

Most frustrating is the fact that Lee sounds hopelessly compromised. You can just feel his talent draining away on these tunes, most of which would sound embarrassingly earnest even for the Dawson's Creek soundtrack. Baby I'm Bored, the recent solo album from Evan Dando, featured three excellent Lee-penned tunes, so it's obvious he hasn't lost it completely. Still, Lee's transition from exciting songwriter to nondescript radio whore is disconcertingly close to completion. Impossible to listen to even once-through, Hey You. Yes You is a puzzling dud from one of the (formerly) more interesting artists out there, as disappointing and blatantly commercial as Liz Phair's newest dud…

Let's hope his upcoming project The Bens (with Ben Folds and Ben Kweller) injects a bit more rock 'n roll playfulness into his aging bloodstream. The world already has too many white-soul electro-ballads for its own good.

Issue 15, September 2003

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