Somewhere in my music collection, lodged next to Noise for Pretend and Noisettes, sits a couple CDs by Noise Addict, the former band fronted by then-teenage indie-sensation Ben Lee. For reasons that are now lost on me, I loved me some Noise Addict, and I was not alone. The Australian band's very sloppy baby-punk tunes were enough to convince both Thurston Moore and Mike D to sign them to their record labels, Ecstatic Peace and Grand Royal, respectively—plus the band garnered an international following for little more than Lee being a cute early teenage kid who possessed more cred than skill. And while that era of my personal music fandom contained more than a few shameful skeletons in the closet (way too much Soul Asylum), my love for Ben Lee is the most baffling. I mean, seriously, what the hell was I thinking?
In the years that followed Noise Addict, Lee went solo, released a handful of uneventful solo albums, and despite all the press they generated none of it produced anything close to a hit here in the States. His latest, with the awful title of Awake Is the New Sleep, is a meaningless musical empty gesture, as Lee's voice is tragically dull and without range, while his meant-to-be-inspiring songwriting seems heavily influenced by the "Hang in There Kitty" poster on his kid sister's wall. The fact that Awake recently went double platinum in Australia proves to me that the entire country is little more than a drunken tone-deaf former penal colony whose national icon can be downed by nothing more than a stingray's barb.
In fact, if Lee has become known for anything, it's for being well liked by famous people. His music peaked back when he was 16, but he rolls with an A-list of hip celebrities, and his musical collaborations run the gamut from impressive (Dan the Automator), to baffling (Kylie Minogue), to completely unnecessary (Ben Folds). Other than being the Lyle Lovett of indie—and dating way out of his league by netting Claire Danes—Lee's Sidekick probably tells more about his success than his records do. But for all those fans of his who are not famous: Why do you bother? It's a hard pitch to convince anyone that Lee's songs are any better than any of the thousands of sensitive solo artists, all of whom are battling it out to be the next Pete Yorn high atop the adult-contemporary pile of safe singer/songwriter dudes. Since I can't give the 14-year-old me a good talking to, I think it's about time I just hit Music Millennium, Noise Addict CDs in tow, and see how much store credit I can get for them.
Ben Lee plays Hawthorne Theatre on Mon Nov 13