You don't want to know the humiliating details of what I had to do to get my hands on an advanced copy of Ben Lee's new album, Ripe, a month before its release date. Just know that I am willing to risk venereal disease and jail time to keep you properly informed and to keep me a self-professed fanboy. I had a CD listening party in my apartment tonight, and, since I was the only person in attendance, I was able to dance around in my Paul Frank underwear.
Ripe is stunning. If Lee's Awake Is the New Sleep (one of my favorite albums of all time, released in 2005) is an introspective and emotionally layered musical journey filled with spiritually literate indie pop songs, then Ripe is an effervescent, unabashedly fun, and genuinely rocking collection of music that is Lee's most accessible album to date and also his most shamelessly joyful. Clearly, Ben Lee wants to party, and you'd be a sucker not to accept the invitation.
While the songs on Awake show musical range and explore different soundscapes and feelings, all the songs on Ripe are mid-tempo or up-tempo to ensure that you'll bob your head, stomp your feet, or dance in your briefs. And if Awake is meant to reach for your intellect and soul, Ripe wants to possess your body. Its driving indie pop-rock mission, reminiscent at times of Ben Folds and The Beatles, is interrupted just twice—in "Birds and Bees," Lee sings a song with the cleverly recruited Mandy Moore that's meant to sound like something straight out of Grease ("You're so beautiful/You make me wanna scream"), and, in the mostly acoustic title track (with some additional instrumentation creeping in halfway through), Lee sings about the satisfaction that comes from taking risks ("So for once in my life/I saw what I wanted and took a bite/I picked the fruit from the tree and it was ripe").
Appropriately enough, most of the tracks on the new album are love songs. Lee may display some hesitancy around the subject in such songs as the anthemic "Sex Without Love," but he bounces back optimistically with "Love Me Like the World Is Ending," "Just Say Yes," and "Blush" ("I don't want nothin' back/I wanna love you like the sun loves you," he states plainly. Then: "Hurt is the question/And love is the answer").
But it's not all silly love songs. Sometimes it's thankfully just silly, as in the very funny and very deadpan "What Would Jay-Z Do?"
You can sample "Love Me Like the World Is Ending," "Sex Without Love," and "What Would Jay-Z Do?" on this Australian music website. Scroll to the bottom and hit the "play" buttons.
And while you wait a whole month for the best album I've heard all year to come out, you can find some solace in the music video for Awake Is the New Sleep's "Into the Dark" because it hints at the spirit of the new album and any song with a toy piano in it is worth a listen: