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Ben Lee contemplates life and love on new album

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 17, 2005

Unfortunately for Ben Lee, this Australian musician has been most well known in America for being the ex-boyfriend of actress Claire Danes. But with his newest release, “Awake is the New Sleep,” Lee has a better, and certainly catchier, way to make a name for himself in the U.S.

Lee’s first major studio release in two years, “Awake is the New Sleep” is a 14-song journey into light melodies and earnest lyrics. It has a sweet and genuine feeling about it, whether it is from Lee’s slight Aussie twinge or his lovable mug on the album’s back cover. Ultimately, while it may not reveal any earth-shattering truths about human nature or the nature of love, “Awake” is an appealing detour from some of the harsher music of today.

The album opens with “Whatever It Is,” a quiet little reflection on questioning and inhibition. The track flows with Lee’s soft voice nearly whispering into the microphone, speaking gentle words to the song’s subject.

“And you’re dancing, and you’re looking kinda crazy / and your arms are making little circles / there are reasons, there are reasons, you can find out,” Lee tenderly muses in “Whatever It Is.”

A standout track is the first major single off of the album, “Catch My Disease,” which describes both Lee’s quest for the love of a certain girl, as well as his random thoughts on life in general. The mood and melody of the track are infectious, pun most likely intended with a smile by Lee. Here he uses a collection of instruments and a motley-crew-of-a-chorus to accentuate the cuteness factor this unabashedly adorable song. Sweet without being overly saccharine, “Catch My Disease” is pure contagious fun.

Other notable tracks include the third song, “Begin,” “Ache for You” and “Into the Dark,” Lee’s observation on romance. Here, the lyrics do reach a point of potential cheesiness, but Lee toes the threshold with carefree ease.

“You’re not a land mine / You’re not a gold mine / No you’re not mine at all,” Lee sings in “Into the Dark.”

For Lee, the journey to making this record comes in the wake of personal change on several levels. His split with Danes and his continual spiritual growth were both catalysts in working towards a new phases in his music.

“This whole record stems from a change that is something I don’t have the vocabulary to be articulate about,” Lee says in a recent MTV.com article, “like that childhood dream when you are in your house and you find a new room you didn’t know about. That’s what my life was like when I was making this record, almost like I remembered what I came for.”

The major issue with “Awake is the New Sleep” lies in its lighthearted nature. There’s an unapologetic lack of weightiness about this disc, and the general tone of the album is one of blissfully inconsequential pop.

Is this a criticism or a compliment? Lee, it seems from the overall tone of the album, would find no fault with either. Instead, he seeks to and succeeds in making a series of lightly contemplative observations on life and love, and in doing so, he is uncomplicated without being shallow. Ultimately at the end of “Awake Is the New Sleep,” nothing major has been observed, learned or changed, and that’s completely fine by Lee. Certainly free from social commentary or serious reflection, the album and its listeners can and do relish in its willful lack of pretension.