Ben Lee: Awake Is The New Sleep
What can you say about Ben Lee? You either hate him or hate him even more. Many would like to smash Lee’s elongated face open, not just because he has previously claimed his albums to be among the greatest Australian rock recordings of all time, but also because of the amazing amount of crap that dribbles out of his month in every interview I have ever read with him.
I don’t hate him for that, it only puts him in the 99 percentile of all celebrities as far as I’m concerned – it’s the frustrating dichotomy of his existence. The fact that he’s not a very good singer or musician, yet plays to his strengths and knows his limits, that he’s not a great writer, yet his songs are habitually catchy and well crafted, the fact that he is not an actor, yet did a pretty good job of starring in ‘The Rage In Placid Lake, hell, I can even forgive him for going out with Claire Danes and not being ‘me’. No, the reason for my hate is an extremely personal and petty one, the fact that he isn’t a designer, yet does a frickin’ fantastic job of designing the cover to ‘Awake Is The New Sleep’ himself.
The cover provides the perfect aesthetic for the upbeat and likeable aura of ‘Awake Is The New Sleep’. Those expecting the album to document the little bugger’s breakup with Claire Danes with morbid musical strains will be disappointed. The album was mostly put together before that sad journey to Dumpsville: population Lee, when Danes decided to grab herself a large hunking lump of actor Billy Crudup, the only signs of their parting is in the bluesy tribute of Ache For You. For most of the album a chin-up atmosphere prevails, even the initial sad strains of ‘Gamble Everything For Love’ upon a closer listen reveals a positive affirmation of the possibilities of love. And it’s all seems perfectly encapsulated with that ‘so simple why didn’t I think of that’ cover that cuts through the pretentions that the albums title might suggest. If I was to say, it’s an album cover with the title spelt out in flowers, it would sound pretty naff, right? Yet Lee pulls it off with the restraint and elegance of a seasoned design professional, bastard.
It’s not a perfect album by any means, it’s cheeriness overstays it’s welcome by a song or two, as does that damn toy piano by about three songs in. I have to give him an “A’ for effort though. Awake Is The New Sleep is a humble album that finds Lee astutely checking his ego at the door for a change. That and a fantastic cover is enough to distract me from his ugly smug mugging, ridiculous media quotes and C grade gaggle of celebrity friends for the moment, at least until he hooks up with his next Hollywood babe.