Catch My Disease (B Lee/M Southworth) and We’re All In This together (B Lee) 2006 and Love Me Like The World Is Ending (B.Lee) – Ben Lee 2007
Born in 1978 in Sydney and raised in a Jewish household, Ben was regarded as something of a wunderkind with a big future, in 1993 he was leading the band Noise Addict and signed to the independent Fellaheen Records. Owner Steve Pavlovic had heard Lee’s self-produced and distributed 4-track demo, recorded by the precocious youngster in his bedroom and in 1994 the group released their debut acoustic EP Young and Jaded via the Beastie Boys Grand Royal Records.
He followed up with the album Meet the Real You but at the age of 16, and while still with Noise Addict, Lee had already commenced his solo career, releasing his debut solo album Grandpaw World which failed to chart. His first album to interest the local market was 1998’s Breathing Tornados, released on Modular, it flagged new musical directions for Lee with the use of synthesisers and increased instrumentation, it charted #19 locally and garnered several ARIA nominations. The single Cigarettes Will Kill You crept into the local top 40, but international success was derailed when Grand Royal Records went into liquidation.
There was little chart success for Lee between 1999 – 2004, he dated actress Claire Danes for several years, but she split with him in 2003. In 2004 he travelled to India and sought enlightenment in the teachings of the Hindu religion with Sakthi Narayani Amma who inspired him to embrace a new spiritually and to reflect the joy of giving to others in his music. He released his fifth album Awake is the New Sleep in February 2005 via his own record label,Ten Fingers, the album was recorded at the Seagrass Studio in LA with indie-rock producer Brad wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt) and it became his first top ten hit at #6 in Aust.
The album heralded a return to the gently melodic, tentatively introspective indie pop that marked his best work in the 1990’s, but following the breakup with Danes and his spiritual awakening in India, he was no longer a shy innocent juvenile but a mature man whose life experiences were now expected to resonate in his music.
Gamble Everything for Love was the first single off the album and indicated that Lee remained troubled by the breakup with Danes, its message was greeting-card simplistic – the importance of putting love above all else, embracing love and finding the true path to fulfilment – musically it was anodyne and inoffensive, and charted #32 locally.
The second single lifted was the more engaging Catch My Disease which is not about STDs but about embracing Lee’s new-found Hindu principle of opening your heart to everyone so that they may share your music and the message within. It intros with handclaps, Lee on acoustic guitar, Brad Wood on drums, Lara Meyerratken on keyboards, fellow songwriter McGowan Southworth on electric guitar and bassist Rob Hann. It was rhythmic in a catchy kind of way, and demonstrated that Lee was maturing as both a songwriter and performer, and imbuing his music with more character and depth, the lyrics denote some self-loathing and angst “My head is a box filled with nothing …Your body’s a dream that turns violent” and after name checking several US locations – Pomona and Santa Ana, he even had a dig at radio programmers who play “Good Charlotte, the Sleepy Jacksons and Beyonce … on the radio” but often ignore his efforts “They don’t play me on the radio/And that’s the way I like it,” it hit #23 locally, charted for 36 weeks, and won the ARIA Award for Best Single of the Year.
Typical of Ben Lee’s promo videos there is a crowd of people cavorting in front of a white screen, the participants sharing the vibe include, cheerleaders, a footy mascot, people with shopping trolleys, hula hoopers, martial arts exponents, line dancers, a Hassidic Jew, a ventriloquist doll, interspersed with the band performing the song – quirky, goofy and cheap.
The third single off the album was We’re All in This Together which was again inspired by Hindu teachings which emphasised the connectedness of humanity, and the fundamental truth that the things we do affects others, maybe he was still pining for Claire Danes and wanted her to know how much he still missed her. It was syrupy, low-key acoustic indie pop and at #49 was a minor local hit, the album Awake is the New Sleep did better, and sold over 150,000 copies.
The first single lifted of his Ripe album (2007) was Love Me Like the World is Ending – it was more gentle, acoustic indie-pop lite, which was somewhat innocuous and anonymous, but it was his most popular single, climbing to #18 locally.
The promo clip was amateurish with people lined up on a sporting field and throwing water bombs at each other, the metaphor for how we can affect each other’s lives was clumsy and gauche, the singer deservedly copped his share of the water bombs before the clip finished.