Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Record Label: Virgin Records
Release Date: August 28th, 2007
I think the best way to describe Ben Harper is "respected." Lifeline is his eleventh release with the Innocent Criminals. All his releases have been critically acclaimed, making him well-known in the States and a superstar overseas. I'll be honest - I haven't heard most of this illustrious back catalog. But I do know that I've seen this band play a handful of times, and each time has completely mesmerized me. Because of this, I jumped at the opportunity to review Lifeline. I slid the disc into my stereo and was enveloped by the fluid, easygoing, reggae-based tunes. The inside of the CD's slipcase proudly proclaims, "Lifeline was recorded and mixed in 7 days on a 16-track analog tape machine. No computers or pro-tools were used anywhere in the process."
That's quite a feat these days in music, and it points to a love of the essential qualities of music, which is exactly what Lifeline delivers. The album begins with an acoustic guitar and bare percussion on "Fight Outta You," leading into gravelly opening lines from Harper. Listening I felt I ought to be sitting barefoot on the porch in the summer. For those of you more indie or country oriented, imagine a more soulful rendition of Wilco's Summerteeth album.
The breezy vibe continues with "In the Colors," a loving song in which Harper pleads "come and dance with me," and you should really want to. The lyrics aren't full of long words or complex metaphors, but they are honest - more real than any band that takes itself too seriously and thinks they're going to change the world.
"Needed You Tonight" puts the piano high in the mix, and Harper belts out the words over the jangly melody. The song feels vaguely familiar, but Harper's immediacy and urgency makes the emotions fresh. "Say You Will" is the most musically upbeat track, beginning acapella and continues bouncing through similes:
like Marie Antoinette said to Louis XVI
man, I think we're going down
our chances are slim and none
and I'm afraid slim just left town
The whole song is backed by a female choir repeating the chorus and adding well-placed "shoops."
Harper slows it back down then with "Younger Than Today," a bittersweet nostalgic song. However, he immediately picks back up with the catchy guitar riffs of "Put It on Me."
"Paris Sunset #7" is a beautiful instrumental track that sounds exactly as its title implies. It's full of delicate acoustic guitar, and sinks further down the octaves as the song progresses, eventually bleeding into the final track, "Lifeline." The title track is reminiscent of Damien Rice or Elliott Smith - a faint acoustic guitar underneath the quavering vocals of a man desperately reaching out.
Lifeline is a thoroughly enjoyable album. While not the most technically innovative or lyrically complex, it's still moving and at times, intense. Save this one for next summer, when you're floating in the pool drinking lemonade.
i think this was one of the most disappointing albums of the year. Ben and the boys are my favorite musical group, but somewhere along the line Ben forgot how to bring the rock on a studio album. i've seen them live 10 times, and they're amazing, but i'm still waiting to recapture Will to Live and Fight For Your Mind.