Album Review

Ben Lee - Ripe

Ben Lee - Ripe

Ben Lee is easy to find annoying -- a child of alt-rock privilege who's been moving in the rarefied world of Beastie Boys and actress girlfriends since he was a teenager. Put the gossip-column stuff aside and just consider Lee's music, however, and it takes real effort to dislike him. He's never made either a start-to-finish killer record or a complete stinker, and that goes for his sixth solo album. But for all its modesty, Ripe is mighty likable. Lee's last album, 2005's Awake Is The New Sleep, had a near-breakthrough hit in "Catch My Disease" (helped by choice TV placements in "Grey's Anatomy" and Dell computer spots). Yet Awake suffered from sameiness and not enough killer tunes, which Ripe remedies. Produced by John Alagia, whose credits include John Mayer and Dave Matthews, Ripe seems like an attempt to meet the mainstream head-on. The piano flourishes on "Numb" have the feel of another Alagia production client, Ben Folds, and you have to give Lee credit for good punchlines and reference points. "What Would Jay-Z Do?" is a pretty great riff on the WWJD bumper sticker, positing Jiggaman as unsung role model for a generation of self-conscious suburban kids. And it's impossible to listen to the soaring "American Television" without wondering if any of it was inspired by Lee's ex-girlfriend, "My So-Called Life" star Claire Danes. There's that back-story again, but at least it doesn't get in the way.