Ben Lee starts out Ripe by observing “This is the first day of the future” — a slightly ironic statement, given that most of us only remember his past. Lee, who started recording and touring at age thirteen, was the punk wunderkind in the band Noise Addict, the precocious kid with an Evan Dando fixation, and the hipster punching bag who dated Claire Danes. But over the course of his five previous albums, Lee has been unable to find solid ground. He continues to soldier on in his quest for legitimacy, but Ripe won’t do a lot to change his reputation as the prodigy that failed.
The twelve songs here drip with coatings of sentiment and sparkly instrumentation that are saccharine and plastic. “Birds and Bees,” featuring a guest appearance from Mandy Moore, sounds painfully like a refugee from a Broadway musical. “Numb,” “American Television,” and “Love Me Like the World Is Ending” are blunt romantic statements ripe for backdrop use in cheap sitcoms. The lowest point, however, is “What Would Jay-Z Do?” It’s billed as “an ode to a personal hero” and it sounds just as insipid as its title would indicate.