album reviews

Ben Lee
New West (2007)

Ben Lee seems very aware of his strengths: On the gleefully catchy "Numb," he sings, "I'm writing pop songs/Done it for so long/Sometimes I dream about/A chorus that's so clever it's dumb." His latest album, "Ripe," is full of such hook-laden tunes, including the swaying '50s pop of the Mandy Moore duet "Birds and Bees" with its not-quite-innocent flirtation and the more overtly suggestive "Sex Without Love," a duet with Good Charlotte's Benji Madden, whose booming singalong choruses are a little too similar to Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name."

Those relationship themes permeate "Ripe," and that's where Lee's clever/dumb aspirations come to play. He seems so taken with writing love songs that his lyrics too often come out as cliches, either melodramatic generalizations ("Love is a reason to exist" on "Just Say Yes") or cheesy pickup lines ("I'm tired of being alone/I want to take you home" on "Home").

For the most part, though, Lee can pull off those ubiquitous lovey-dovey lyrics, given his youth and his up-tempo style. Even the fanboyish "What Would Jay-Z Do?" (a love song of a different kind, devoted to his idol) comes across as more clever than dumb, with Lee's goofy lyrics channeled into a seriously catchy tune.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 23 November 2007, Page WE06
.: Ripe on