Single Review: Ben Lee
The paraphernalia surrounding Ben Lee's new single hits a new level of twee, from the name to the packaging to the Myspace suffix (benleeheartspopmusic). The song itself opens with a syrupy pop arrangement of peppy guitar, handclaps and Lee's increasingly Americanised voice, more 'lurve' than 'love'. The lyrics are similarly light: "I love pop music/This is how we do it/Politics you can romance to/I love pop music/Sprinkle sugar through it/Philosophy that you can dance to."
The last lines give the first hint that this song is to be an exercise in hyper-self-awareness. Yes, it's sugary sweet, but Lee acknowledges as much in the lyrics. And from here it just gets more complex.
For the verses, Lee settles into a chanted litany of the world's ills: "The price of oil is at an all-time high and rising/Global warming threatens life as we know it on this planet." Thing is, he does it all with a jaunty tone, an upbeat guitar line and self-parodying punctuations of "Yeah!" and "Whoo!" from his back-up singers.
No, Lee isn't saying anything hugely insightful. His lines are soundbites, alluding to problems without analysing them. But it's still a strange and brave tack to take with a commercial song. Lee's not only discussing serious issues, he's analysing whether his art can usefully contribute to the discussion.
The song is multi-layered: it conveys serious information through pop music; it discusses the feasibility of conveying serious information through pop, and it holds down a catchy tune throughout. Whether it qualifies as a great song per se is up for debate, but it's an ambitious and clever self-analysis a deconstruction of pop songs via the medium of a pop song. It is art devouring its own tail, which in itself makes pretty entertaining listening.