Ben Lee is a pretty big name in Australia. His previous album Awake Is The New Sleep went five-times platinum and won him a clutch of ARIA Music Awards over there. He hasn’t really gone all out to capture the British audience though, and this follow-up album is unlikely to change things for him just yet.
Coming from someone classified in the indie genre in his home country, and who has been described as pretentious and precocious, Ripe is a disappointingly bland affair. None of the songs have any edge to them, the tunes are predictable and the lyrics are mundane.
That said, the songs are generally pretty easy on the ear. Lead single Love Me Like The World Is Ending is okay, and its mid-tempo safety lets you know exactly what you can expect from the rest of the album. It’s almost as if he has written everything to a hook-laden formula, but it’s all just so lazy and over-produced that it ultimately feels empty.
Most of the tracks don’t really register on either side of the good/bad music barometer. They’re all just so-so. American Television veers towards being quite painful while the Mandy Moore duet Birds And Bees is quite sweet but still irritating. Things pick up a little by the time the middle section of the album comes around. Blush is a genuinely lovely, lilting ballad, and Numb is sprightly and energetic with its call out to a controlling record industry that he’ll “refuse to go numb” – ironic since his music seems designed for those who already are numb. Bonus points are awarded for What Would Jay-Z Do? – a tidy bit of lyrical flair in recognition of how celebrity and money have replaced religion in today’s society. Shame the tune’s instantly forgettable.
Unfortunately any good work is undone by the absolutely dreadful Sex Without Love. Like a synthesized pop/rock rip-off of Bon Jovi‘s You Give Love A Bad Name, it’s a terrible mistake. On top of the abysmal song, add a plaintive cry of “Heavens above, sex without love” and you have one of the worst tracks that’s likely to be released all year.
It’s not clear what Lee is trying to achieve with this album. It’s certainly got quite an American feel to it and you can imagine quite a few of these songs soundtracking teenage films and television series. But surely it’s not actually going to appeal to that demographic, because there’s nothing “cool” on offer here. While he shouldn’t expect to find himself garnering awards and praise over here, in a world that finds room for The Fray and Daniel Powter, anything’s possible. Time to go numb, then.