Ben Folds - Rockin' The SuburbsIf you’re worried about Ben Folds Five disbanding, don’t be. If you’re worried that post-Five Folds would sound like Ben’s ill-fated 1998 side project, there’s no cause for concern. This album, Folds’ first solo project, proves that he’s certainly got the stuff to forge ahead on his own.

Sticking to the same musical-hermit-crab-with-a-few-guests style that Jeff Lynne adopted for the latest ELO album, Folds plays almost everything himself, though he occasionally has a helping hand with vocals, and tracks several numbers with a string section backing conducted by longtime collaborator John Mark Painter. The result is something which, in places, sounds quite a bit like Ben Folds Five – many of the songs were written and arranged for a piano/bass/drum combo – but is a major evolutionary jump. Folds is famous for his humorous, geek-angst-ridden songs, but he’s also known for his uncanny ability to set short character sketches to music. He shows his pop acumen a little more obviously here than on any of his previous work (with the possible exception of the Five’s lovely swan song), with wall-of-sound harmony backing vocals, and amazingly catchy hooks. If there’s a failing to Folds’ D.I.Y. approach, it’s his drumming – Benny, you don’t have to hit the cymbals on every beat. They’re an accent thing. This style almost distracts one from the majestic pop hooks of “Gone” and a few other songs.

The cryptically titled “Fred Jones, Part 2” (there’s no evidence of part 1 anywhere) is a beautifully-arranged melancholy tale of a man’s thankless last day at a job he’s held for 25 years (the whole song is buoyed by a solo cello that makes it even sadder), while “Losing Lisa” sports an arrangement that’s almost straight out of a Phil Spector ’60s epic. “Carrying Cathy”, a song about a guy whose friend is suicidally depressed, really hit home with me, since I’ve lived that story before (though thank God it wasn’t a “successful suicide” – and though I’m tempted to go off on a tirade about what a horrible term that is, I’ll save it for another time). “Fired” is a gloriously goofy story of a manager who’d love nothing more than to shitcan his entire staff (a song I’ll probably be blasting at work before too long, and which reminds me a lot of “Steven’s Last Night In Town” from Whatever And Ever Amen), and the title track – also the album’s lead single – is perhaps the biggest nod to the Ben Folds Five legacy, the hilarious and profanity-ridden lament of a small-time musician 4 out of 4who must “face the fact that some producer with computers will fix all my shitty tracks.” The thing is, that song is not representative of the other songs around it, and some listeners expecting more boisterous tunes along the lines of Suburbs may feel like they’ve been misled. But for me, I actually prefer the rest of the album to that single – and I think it’ll open a few eyes and ear to Folds’ potential as well.

Order this CD

  1. Annie Waits (4:17)
  2. Zak And Sara (3:11)
  3. Still Fighting It (4:25)
  4. Gone (3:22)
  5. Fred Jones, Part 2 (3:45)
  6. The Ascent Of Stan (4:14)
  7. Losing Lisa (4:10)
  8. Carrying Cathy (3:49)
  9. Not The Same (4:17)
  10. Rockin’ The Suburbs (4:58)
  11. Fired (3:49)
  12. The Luckiest (4:25)

Released by: Epic
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 48:42