When Ben Lee found himself trapped inside a Chicago hotel room due to unfriendly weather at the start of this year, his mind started to wander to the indie rock that he used to listen to on his first trip to the city in 1993. It wasn’t long before he had his portable studio assembled in the room and started the blueprint for Quarter Century Classix, an album that finds Lee reinterpreting some of his favourite songs from the time.
Returning to his Laurel Canyon studio to complete the recordings, Lee invited the esteemed Julianna Barwick, William Tyler and Mary Lattimore to assist in shading these restrained covers. With indie rock and slacker rock arguably being the pinnacle of music that was released in the 90s, Lee had some rich ground to mine. When reinterpreting these tunes, for the most part, Lee has reduced the volume and volatility of the originals and placed his affected Australian drawl at the forefront of the mix.
Web In Front is a relatively faithful take on the Archers Of Loaf classic, albeit in acoustic mode. With a hook fit for a fictional pirate, it’s is a difficult song to ruin (although a local band around the turn of the century were prone to butchering it), and it is one of the better moments on Quarter Century Classix. Car is another tune that works in this setting with Lattimore offering some gentle strings, that give the feel of a contemporary music box backing track.
Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory is turned on its head with some phased guitar and jazz piano. Whilst an interesting exploration of the lo-fi staple, it only acts as another reason to revisit the entirety of the Guided By Voices album Bee Thousand. The strength of the original tune shines through more often than not, although much of the energy is sucked out of The Breeders’ Divine Hammer, and Blueprint (Fugazi) is mundane at best. Lee accentuates his diction during In The Mount Of A Desert which adds a new flavour to serial mumblers Pavement. It is the strings backed Ingrown (Smudge) and meandering take on Beat Happening’s Godsend that are by far the album’s saving grace.
Quarter Century Classix is clearly a vanity project for Lee, as he reminisces about the bands that informed his music during his teenage years. The album proves he does indeed have impeccable taste, but that is unlikely to get people coming back for repeated listens, as no indie rock fan ever said, “I love this song, I just really wish that Ben Lee was singing it”.