Unusually insufferable, Rebirth of Venus does its damnedest to play against Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee’s already modest skill set. Having proven himself good for an occasional throwaway single once every decade (1999’s “Cigarettes Will Kill You” and 2005’s “Catch My Disease” standing as notable guilty pleasures), Lee is at his best when he’s singing lighthearted non sequiturs over ingratiating pop hooks. When he’s pontificating about global affairs or attempting to draft some kind of ill-conceived thesis about modern gender politics, however, Lee can make otherwise right-minded people long for the relative humility of Jason Mraz or the relative sensitivity and insight of Maroon 5. That’s how badly he misses the mark on Venus. Without any standout melodies or hooks to distract from the album’s content, its shortcomings are placed front and center for the entirety of its interminable running time.
Lee’s attempts at political awareness reduce to empty-headed activist talking points: a syntax-optional line like, “There are over six billion people on this planet and not enough fresh drinking water/Religious intolerance creating geopolitical instability,” from “I Love Pop Music,” actually proves the opposite of the song’s ostensible hook about being “philosophy that you can dance to,” which is still a far sight better than the half spoken-word, all stupid platitudes of “Wake Up to America.” And the album’s supposed theme about exploring one’s feminine side amounts to little more than a tribute to Yoko Ono, a horrible bit of funk-lite about being a “Boy with a Barbie,” and the Helen Reddy-quoting “I’m a Woman, Too,” in which Lee recites a list of who is actually a woman, which might have been entertaining if he named names or bothered to back up any of his broadsides. Instead, Lee is content to observe that “the Jew,” “the Palestinian,” “this planet,” and—wait for it—“you” are a woman too. Were the central conceit not so half-assed and Lee’s lyrics not so shallow, Venus might qualify as actively misogynist in a way that could be interesting to engage and dissect. As is, the album is simple to an annoying, tiresome degree.