Ben Lee covering an entire Against Me! album, really? I hope Jason Bay is wide-awake in left field because this cover record was hit out there with force.
A decelerated and 100% acoustic version of New Wave is precisely what the AM! purists wanted the band’s major label debut to sound like, although I’m sure they’ll still find reasons to get up in arms over a decorated indie pop star from down under reworking a few punk anthems that they might catch their mother listen to.
I thoroughly enjoy Lee's voice, but it doesn't work well on all of the songs. He's too gentle and compassionate for coarse tracks like "White People for Peace" and "Americans Abroad.” On the contrast, he steals some of the thunder from "New Wave," almost converting it into his own tune. My only gripe with the aforementioned track is his Australian accent mudding up the word "shores" to where it sounds like "chores.”
Another track that fairs well acoustically is "Up the Cuts" -- a gracious piano and humble alt-rock beat carry it simply, while adding a certain charm. The "ba ba ba"s on the album's lead single "Thrash Unreal" work a little better coming from Ben than they do for Tom Gabel. "Stop" was one of my favorite cuts on New Wave, but I'm not too fond of Lee's endeavor; the same can be said for "Bourne on the FM Waves of the Heart.” I find that humorous, seeing as that's the track that Tegan guests on, which was one of the main reasons Ben listened to Against Me! in the first place. The cover is a dud, because without one-half of the Quin twins it loses its captivating appeal, even if Lee delivers his vocal parts in superior fashion.
"Animal" is the worst song AM! have ever recorded, and the same can quickly be said for Ben. I'm still not sure how I feel about his rendition of "Ocean.” During my initial listen I couldn't wait to hear it, because I had a feeling his cute and playful style would take the song to immeasurable altitudes. However, it resonates on par with Gabel's initial effort. I'm not vilifying it, as I adore the song, I just felt Ben could have done a finer job. Perhaps it's the weird strain on his voice as he croons "there is an ocean / in my soul” that affects my opinion.
One thing that is severely missing from this collection: Add a few soft thumps and a plethora of these songs would fashion into the perfect "Against Me!-lite" sound. My pleasure with these songs trumps any negatives however and I'm glad an artist like Ben Lee decided to tackle a punk rock record.
Listen to and download the complete album here.
Read Ben Lee's Blog about covering the album here.