The career arc for teen rockers tends to follow one of two paths:
initial acclaim leading to speedy obscurity, or initial disdain leading to
So far, Australian singer Ben Lee is the exception to both
Having blasted out of the box with an impressive 1994 solo debut,
Grandpaw Would, that painted the Noise Addict (his now defunct teen punk
band) leader as a sensitive voice of reason beyond his years, Lee set himself
up for a mighty fall by perhaps giving up too much from the onset.
which makes Lee's second solo effort, the 16-track Something to Remember Me
By (out today) all the more impressive.
Gone on the recording is the
aw-shucks factor of a barely-old-enough-to-drive-kid singing about his love for
the Pixies and supermodels. Swept in is a more worldly high school grad mature
enough--with the help of veteran producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt,
That Dog) to ease the rough spots once again--to dabble in train track meter
country ("New Song"), a strong stab at a cappella ("A Month Today") and even an
organ-driven tune with looped beats about his childhood ("Career Choice").
Lee has a gang of help along the way, including Grand Royal label boss
Lee has a gang of help along the way, including Grand
Royal label boss Mike D on drums on the why-can't-we-all-just-get-along sibling
rivalry song "2 Sisters," Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur singing angelic
backing vocals on the painful "Grammercy Park Hotel," and Keyboard Money Mark
lending a subtle piano assist on the fast-love confusion confessional "Daisy,"
about a love he's known for an hour who takes him to "a darker holy
Lee hasn't just grown up, he's grown in. Into his deeper voice and
into his own as a crafty heart-on-sleeve songwriter well wiser than his years.
"In the Desert" is a devastatingly sweet and pure acoustic ballad that
finds Lee contemplating his own long-away death, musing on the naturalistic
differences between expiring in the arid desert at age 94 ("And there'll be no
water/ No rain, no hell, no tears/ Cuz it never rains in the desert/ Like it
has where I live here"), or the congested city at 98 ("There'll be no silence/
To make me stop and fear/ Cuz it's never quiet in the city/ Like it is where I
Lee, who finds a way to write a convincingly touching ode to
first love at age 8 ("Eight Years Old"), and again at 17, could teach some
of his older peers (listen up Sting, Gavin) a thing or two about successfully
weaving literary metaphors into song on the swelling sad sack ode to the
original Big Poppa, Ernest Hemingway, on "Ketchum," which features
appropriately weepy cello work from That Dog's Petra Hayden.
clever enough to deal with the teen star issue without sounding self-conscious
and awkward by owning up to using every ounce of his life for material so far
("A Month Today"), and equating himself with faded child stars from the cast of
such '80s TV staples as "Family Ties," "Growing Pains," "Diff'rent Strokes" and
"Punky Brewster." "You're never quite so cute/ And I should know/ Once puberty
takes its toll," spits Lee, who wonders "where do they go when they die?" Teen
stardom, sings Lee, is "The toughest game and the hardest time/ It's the
longest walk on the thinnest line/ It's sad and true that they love then
With this excellent and mature second effort, Lee has deftly
side-stepped the too-cute Hanson Trap and leapt across the pin-up teen David
Cassidy/Andy Gibb chasm, offering up more proof of his well-earned status as a
songwriter to watch.