Album: Breathing Tornados, 1998
Justification: In my professional opinion, Ben Lee’s The Rebirth of Venus is one of the most terrible albums ever made by humans. The songs are ghastly, the lyrics hilariously inept and the tunes just plain not there. And it astonished me because dammit, Ben Lee can write a song when he wants to.
Like this one.
This was one of his biggest hits, reaching #2 on the 1998 Hottest 100 and remaining one of his most loved tracks. it’s also one of the first times that I’d really noticed the use of autotune as a way of fixing an artists’ intonation. Listen to that keening self-harmony in the chorus, or the way his voice holds for unnaturally long in the coda. It was to get much more subtle for a while there, although of course nowadays not only do people not mind if singers sound eerily robotic – you literally won’t get a song on the radio without it. Heavily quantised autotune is going to be to the 00s what gated snare sounds were to the 80s and low-register-free albums mixed during mad cocaine binges were to the 90s.
Anyway, it was a huge sonic difference to the Lee of old, which can be attributed to producer Ed Buller – then on a bit of a high thanks to his work with Pulp and Suede and having some fun out in the colonies messing with the work of artists like Lee and Alex Lloyd (who, in an interview long after the event, told me that Buller was a supercilious prick in the studio). It may have been a big change in his sound, but it got Lee out of the lo-fi cul-de-sac that he’d gotten into recording with US indie coolsie Brad Wood.
From here he did one more album with Modular (hey you yes you) before going indie for the smash hit Awake is the New Sleep in 2005, a good 18 months after [x] is the new [y] references stopped being clever, funny or original. It’s also about where Lee himself stopped being clever, funny or original, actually – and the fact that his biggest success came when he stepped out on his own appears to have given him a delusional conviction about the infallibility of his own genius. But still, I do genuinely love this song.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: The Flaming Lips’ magnificent, beautiful, heartbreaking ode to life, love and rational thinking: ‘Do You Realize???’
AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…