The down-under age wonder gets to the core of adolescent anxiety in his album ''Something to Remember Me By''
I’m gonna make it through and I’m gonna do it all,” goes the chorus from Ben Lee’s ”New Song,” a, um, new song from his just-released Something to Remember Me By. Coming from a less-talented teen-pop flavor of the month, such a sentiment might seem egotistic; considering this Australian singer-songwriter’s rapid ascent and instant street cred, he’s allowed a little youthful hubris. Only 18, Lee has already released three albums, and numerous singles and EPs, all with the seal of approval from alt-rock’s reigning royalty. In 1994, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore put out the then-15-year-old’s first Stateside release, an EP from Lee’s punk band Noise Addict; in short order, Beastie Boy Mike D signed Lee to the Beastie’s Grand Royal label.
It’s not hard to figure out what these Uberhipsters saw in the lad: On songs like ”I Wish I Was Him” (an envious ode to Lemonhead Evan Dando), Lee perfectly captured the rush of falling in love with rock & roll. Now that he actually lives the dream of all those pimply wannabes practicing air guitar in their bedrooms, Lee’s more blase. ”The first times I met bands I admired, it was cool, but it’s just part of the game,” he says, calling from his folks’ home in Sydney. ”It’s not by any means the biggest reward.”
For Lee, the biggest reward is the soul-searching that produced Something, a stark, mostly acoustic document of adolescence’s last gasp. When Lee sings, ”You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen/Way too much for the age of 18” (on ”A Month Today”), you believe it. Meanwhile, a cautionary tale like ”Career Choice” could serve as a primer on the perils of early fame for all the Hansons and silverchairs now bolting up the charts. Most crushing, though, is ”Household Name,” a meditation on the faded fortunes of pubescent novelty acts like ”those kids from Diff’rent Strokes.” Lee — whose voice broke during the sessions for his first solo album, 1995’s Grandpaw Would — realized after writing the song that ”there’s [no] difference between me and them!”
That’s not to say he hasn’t graduated to Bigger Things — after all, this is a guy who wrote a song called ”End of the World.” ”The poet John Giorno said, ‘I’d rather be dead than 18 years old and a poet again.’ That’s so integral to understanding my work,” he explains, sounding like a Holden Caulfield drunk on teen angst. ”I’m dealing with my soul and the souls of the people who listen to me. However I’m judged, I’m gonna make it through and I’m gonna do it all.”