At the risk of abusing sports analogies, being a Ben Lee fan must be a lot like cheering for the Red Sox. A series of admirable efforts and promising starts just seems to inexplicably turn into general disappointments.
You know there’s talent. You fondly remember favorite highlights — 1997’s How to Survive a Broken Heart or 1999’s Cigarettes Will Kill You — and goodness knows you’ve waited long enough for that big year.
Ultimately, Ben Lee just never seems to be able to put everything together all at once. But just like the Sox, he’s good enough to keep you tuning in. Such is the case with Lee’s latest solo album, Hey You. Yes You. It has plenty of bright spots but just can’t hold it all together to make it more than pretty good.
The album kicks off with the infectious single “Running with Scissors,” with its radio-friendly electric guitar pop and bongo beats. As catchy and lovable as this tune may be, minutes into the song Lee’s Achilles heel lays fully exposed. Consider the chorus: “The sleeping hearts never understand / You can’t here the song until you dance/ We run with scissors in our hands.” Since his early years in the teen garage rock band, Noise Addict, the Austrailian singer/songwriter has never quite been able to steer away from cliches and overstepping his lyrical limits with forays into deeper waters than he can handle. This album is no exception.
Consequently, Lee’s best songs remain those that are more personal and less geared toward trying to sound quite so philosophical. Take the album’s third track, “Dirty Mind,” a slow, uncharacteristically funky groove (likely due to production and mixing by Dan the Automator, who produced eleven of the twelve tracks). Lee’s simple lyrical swagger connects as he proclaims, “You’ll never clean my dirty mind / ‘Cause a dream is a weapon / And I think about you everyday … But I’m never going to give it away.” Similarly, on the single “No Room to Bleed,” with its elegantly simple drum and piano loops, and the ensuing two tracks, “On & On” and “Shine,” Lee’s literal lyrical candor hits beautifully as he sticks to his forte, the safe waters of songs about love and relationships and himself.
By and large, Lee fans won’t likely be surprised with what they find — a likable, if slightly lacking and intermittently trite, listening experience. And though in their hearts they may not be able to shake the feeling of unmet expectations, they’ll know that there’s always next album.