Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals Lifeline Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The album that may make France's favourite blues/world artist finally make his mark in...

Adam Webb 2007

With Newton Faulkner currently tearing up the charts, treading in the well-worn footprints - or, rather sandalprints- of Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, it looks like ‘Dude music’ is fully back in vogue. For Ben Harper, this is a good thing. He might be royalty in France, but the charms of his laid back muso-heavy offerings have so far proved elusive to all but a hardcore of UK fans. A bit like Counting Crows or Phish, we just don’t get Harper over here.

With Lifeline that could be about to change. The album was recorded and mixed over one week in a small Parisian studio after nine months on the road, and it sounds like it too. The music is organic, acoustic, effortless and almost telepathically soulful. Harper and his Innocent Criminals have an innate understanding in their playing that only comes when six grown men are holed up in a tour bus for three-quarters of the year.

The lyrics, however, have suffered. Actually, they’re pretty dreadful. Given the easiness on the ear of Harper’s voice, this is less of a problem – yet, with song after song reliant on a succession of rhyming clichés (and with Harper, where there’s an ‘eye’ you can bet your life a ‘pie’, ‘sky’ or ‘why’ will surely follow) an entire album built on everyman spiritualism loses its sense of identity. Lifeline is a road album. A great-sounding road album; but a road album none the less.

Still, Harper’s laid-back blend of country, rock and soul on tracks like “In The Colors” and “Having Wings” remains a winning formula. And when he stretches those lazy vocal chords on “Needed You Tonight”, the effect is stunning. Certainly, fans of Paul Weller and Van Morrison will find much to love here. Just don’t listen too closely to the words.

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