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Ben Lee changes his tune

Ryan Rafferty | Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Ben Lee first broke onto the Australian music scene in the early ’90s, fronting the band Noise Addict; within a few years, he left the group to pursue a solo career. His catchy acoustic folk songs and witty lyrics earned him the distinct honor of being a teenage music hero, even though his first album, Grandpaw Would, was not immensely successful outside of his homeland, Australia. Lee didn’t strike gold overseas until the single “Cigarettes Will Kill You,” off his third album, Breathing Tornadoes, became popular on the radio. Then Lee took some time off to reflect and write his latest album, Hey You, Yes You.

Lee said that, on his latest album, “I’m trying to express on this record the same things I’m trying to express in my life right now. It’s all about leaving rough edges, keeping it dirty, not judging it.”

But Hey You, Yes You doesn’t have a rough edge to be seen. In fact, it is a perfectly smooth and polished pop album. Lee teams up with producer Dan the Automator, known for his work with the Beastie Boys and his rap skills on Gorillaz’s hit song “Clint Eastwood.” His pairing with a producer known more for his work with hip-hop groups gives Lee’s music a fresher feel.

The album starts off with the hook-heavy “Running With Scissors,” which immediately shows off Lee’s amazing ability to write catchy pop songs seemingly at the drop of a hat. Hey You, Yes You is a very accessible pop album, which is shown perfectly through “Something Borrowed, Something Blue.” This track is a surefire radio hit with a catchy chorus and an infectious guitar riff, layered over a heavily synthesized drum loop. Other tracks, like “Music 4 the Young and Fresh” and “Dirty Mind,” draw heavily on producer Dan the Automator’s hip-hop background, featuring heavily sampled drum and keyboard loops. These heavy drum loops contrast very nicely with Lee’s acoustic guitar riffs.

The first half of the album showcases Lee’s pop sensibilities very well, but Lee gets sensitive on the second half. The majority of the songs on the first half could easily be hits on any pop radio station, such as “After Taste,” on which Lee sounds like a dead ringer for Damon Albarn in a Gorillaz song. But fans of Lee’s earlier acoustic music don’t have anything to fear from the poppy, radio-friendly first half. Songs like “No Room to Bleed” and “Chills” showcase Lee’s softer side. Both songs feature a beautifully played piano and light acoustic guitar. In the later songs, Lee strays from his self-centered lyrics to more romantic and contemplative pieces. Even though the second half seems less poppy and radio-friendly, make no mistake about the sound. The songs are still very heavily produced and layered heavily with drum loops and keyboards.

Lee uses the studio setting perfectly. Every track on Hey You, Yes You is seamlessly pieced together and layers hip-hop beats with acoustic guitars wonderfully. The extras on the album show just how much Lee used the studio to his advantage. A live version of “Chills” is included on the album, and it differs greatly from the actual studio version. The live version features only Lee and his acoustic guitar and a piano, which contrasts greatly with the drum machine, acoustic guitar, violins, keyboards and multiple samples used on the studio version.

Overall, this is a fun and refreshing pop album. Every song on this album could essentially be a hit on the radio. Lee doesn’t miss a step in this latest release and flawlessly creates a wonderful pop gem. Fans of any musical genre, from hip-hop to folk, will appreciate Lee’s incredible ability to write foot-tapping good tunes.

Contact Ryan Raffertyr at rraffert@nd.edu