Local Wire

Ben Lee

Where do you go when the cute wears off? Lee's teenage band, Noise Addict, overflowed with precocious charm epitomized by his humorous ode to Evan Dando, "I Wish I Were Him." It earned the Beastie Boys' patronage, and the Aussie teen recorded two solo albums for Grand Royal, the latter of which, 1997's Something to Remember Me by, stands out as his best writing to date (although he's largely disowned it live). His follow-up, 1999's Breathing Tornados, was a hit back home, exchanging Something's crisp Brad Wood production and earnest, acoustic vibe for gilded, synth-heavy production, coating his heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity with a thin layer of melancholy. But the success in Australia didn't connect here because Grand Royal folded shortly after Tornados' release. A somewhat experimental release with Dan The Automator, 2002's Hey You, Yes You, had little U.S. distribution and registered barely a ripple. It set the stage for Lee to return to Wood for 2005's Awake Is the New Sleep, which grasps after Something's ragged, jangling charm with mixed success. His latest, Ripe, returns to the mid-tempo pop formula, but despite a pleasant Mandy Moore duet, suggests Lee's better as a blushing power-pop friend than the hit-making lead (at least, in this country).