BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Given his unruly beginnings in an early ‘90s Aussie outfit that called itself Noise Addict, Ben Lee’s decision to retrace some seminal favorites from those early ‘90s ought to come as little surprise. So while Quarter Century Classix may be first and foremost a covers record, Lee’s inherent flair for sharing memorable melodies with an infectious energy serves him well here. The choice of material may not seem pop friendly initially, but even so, Lee demonstrates an ability to turn the work of some post punk provocateurs into something that’s not only intriguing, but surprisingly inventive as well.
Indeed, in many of the cases here, Lee takes an offhanded approach to the music that belies the darker designs of the originals. Archer of Loaf’s “Web in Front,” Fugazi’s “Blue Print” and Guided By Voice’s “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” all take on an amiable, ambling presence that’s not only outwardly engaging, but practically transformative as well. Still, that’s nothing compared to the sweet pastiche he gives Built To Spill’s “Car” and the effusive energy endowed in Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” the latter now sounding like a classic incarnate. The psychedelic sheen of “Get Me” (Dinosaur) and “In the Mouth of a Desert” (Pavement) add further illumination to the overall effort, while further confirming Lee’s own inventive instincts.
Though it started out as an inconsequential attempt to revisit Lee’s early influences through some impromptu hotel room recordings, Quarter Century Classix was later spurred on by the assistance of various artists who can also claim credence as far as that essential era — among them, Mike Watt, William Tyler, Petra Haden, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer Joey Waronker, and electronic artist Julianna Barwick. It’s a formidable crew, but Lee’s obvious infatuation with the material is the thing that gives the album its unmistakable allure. Even a quarter century on, Lee instills these so-called classix with a renewed credence and conviction of his own.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Speeding Motorcycle,” “Get Me,” “Web in Front”
To read a brief – and fun – essay that Lee himself penned about this delightful album’s originals, go here.