A Child Phenom Grows Up
Ben Lee is the LeBron James of the music industry: signed in 1993 at age 14 by Grand Royal records, he's put out two solo albums, collaborated with Ben Kweller and Ben Folds and even starred in a movie. Can a shoe deal be far behind?
"Hey You." shows why Lee is deserving of such attention. Immediate comparisons can be made to Beck, although Lee can't match the thick layers of sampling and instruments or the obtuse lyrics. But Lee can mix a hip-hop beat with acoustic guitar to create a haunting backdrop ("No Room to Bleed") or a stellar pop song ("Running with Scissors"). A gold star goes to producer Dan the Automator for weaving the disparate sounds together into a textured tableau for Lee's vocals.
The album starts off strong with a string of deceptively simple pop tunes, leading up to "Something Borrowed, Something Blue" the first single and a riveting, catchy song. Lee starts it off with a Stones-era guitar riff, adds a vibrating bass and finishes the concoction with a high-hat drum beat before launching into the lyrics (I think they have something to do with a marriage gone bad, but Lee gives us only snapshots instead of a narrative).
The second half of the album can't keep the momentum, although it does provide some quiet counterparts in "Shine" and "In the Morning." The vaguely retro feel of Lee's voice makes the album seem instantly familiar. Hey You is a bit of an acquired taste that should keep Lee at the fringes of the mainstream, but after 10 years in the biz, you get the feeling that's where he wants to be.