MGF Reviews Ben Jelen – Ex-Sensitive

Ben Jelen – Ex-Sensitive
Custard Records (7/17/07)
Rock / Alternative

What struck me first when listening to this Scottish-born, New York-based rocker is how versatile he is. Every track seems to jump genre and melody with ease and comfort—from Death Cab for Cutie in the song “Pulse” to what seems like a track from the soundtrack of Velvet Goldmine in the title track “Ex-Sensitive” to Ben Folds in “Wreckage” and a “Fake Plastic Trees” Thom Yorke in “What Have We Done”. All of this, mind you, with a thin coat of Coldplay and a crown molding of Oasis.

Let me put it this way: reports that Ben Jelen… “was discovered by a Calvin Klein marketing executive at a Jane’s Addiction concert who wanted to offer Jelen a shot at a modeling career. Jelen declined, but piqued the interest of the now-revealed CEO of Fearless Management, Joseph Janus, with his enthusiasm for a career in music.” This album is the work of a model. A model is made to represent whatever it is that he/she is selling. They are to play the character, be it an executive getting out of a cab right before a big meeting in his best suit, a surfer around a bonfire with his best gal and cabana shirt or a woman who loves to hang around in her underwear because she is just that sexy. The models aren’t actually these people, just as Ben Jelen truly has no identity on this album. It is how I feel about most New York artists—completely self-involved yet wholly empty.

This sounds like a very hard critique, especially for how much I like this album, but it is true. Every song is just a copy of a genre of music. As though they sat in the studio and said, “Okay, now let’s do the Queens of the Stone Age song.” There is no rhyme or reason for the jumps and it seems completely dishonest. On the other side of the coin, the songs are very catchy, well written, and clean. If every song sounded like James Blunt, I could say… Okay, he is copying James Blunt but that is who he identifies with. Instead, Ben seems lost in a sea of music he loves but with which he can make a meaningful connection.

This kid is going to make it big and that is because he has the looks. It pains me to say it, but it is true. Croon a few bars of a broken heart from luscious lips and the kids will buy it. The more I research Ben Jelen, the less I like this album. His Web site even has a gallery of pictures of him—a million-and-a-half photos of this kid who looks like Nick Drake’s younger brother. A constant, obvious, look of visionary plastered over a youthful chiseled face. He looks like the kind of guy who reads chicks his poetry in an effort to coerce them into anal sex. Does that make sense?