Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind

Ben Folds Five - The Sound Of The Life Of The MindBack when Ben Folds embarked on his solo career, I distinctly remember listening to some of the songs and thinking that the difference in style wasn’t enough to justify dissolving the band; The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner was already a significant departure from the strictly-piano-and-drums-and-fuzz-bass sound that Ben Folds Five started out with, so where was the dividing line where this album was still Ben Folds Five, but the next album’s material was no longer suitable? (As it turned out, the dividing line was actually the distance from South Carolina to Australia – Folds moved down under to get married.)

With Folds now back in the United States, it was only a matter of time before the most obvious idea in the world, namely getting the band back together, occurred to Folds instead of just to the fans. And while Sony would probably have been more than happy for the group to get back into the studio, Folds opted to crowd-fund the recording sessions, with incentives such as downloads for those who helped foot the bill for the band’s reunion. The result is The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind, an album that’s better than I had dared hope. The opening track, “Erase Me”, is enough to make you think that Ben Folds Five was never away.

Once past the lead track, however, we finally get the promise of a post-Reinhold Messner Ben Folds Five, and it confirms my feeling, from the early 21st century, that there was no need to break up the band in the first place. Songs like “Sky High”and “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” split the difference between Folds’ more orchestrated solo work and the Ben Folds Five sound, though the balance tips toward one extreme or the other elsewhere: “On Being Frank” is a lush ballad about a hanger-on in Frank Sinatra’s entourage suddenly being cut loose, and sounds much more like Folds’ solo work. The opposite end of the scale, and the most Ben Folds Five-like tune on the album, is also the catchiest: “Draw A Crowd” has a punchy melody, though the lyrics of the chorus (“if you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall”) will sadly cheat it out of any kind of radio airplay, which it richly deserves – the tune is just an insanely catchy earworm.

The lead single, instead, is “Do It Anyway”, a half-sung, half-spoken ode to reckless youthful abandon and poor decision-making. (Hell, I feel like I’m 25 years old again just listening to it.) The last three songs on the album are less frantic and more contemplative, as is often the case as Folds closes out an album (with or without the rest of his band).

The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind is a rare reunion album. It’s been over 15 years since I was introduced to Ben Folds Five, back when a friend dropped by my place to cheer me up while I was 4 out of 4recovering from a fairly rough surgery experience and played Whatever And Ever, Amen for me, and rather than sounding like a pale echo of its original sound, Ben Folds Five’s latest has the same irresistible appeal as the group did the first time I heard them, even though the group’s sound has evolved. Fans will probably latch onto it instantly, and after all this time off the map, Ben Folds Five might just find a few new fans too.

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  1. Erase Me (5:15)
  2. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later (4:32)
  3. Sky High (4:42)
  4. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind (4:13)
  5. On Being Frank (4:34)
  6. Draw A Crowd (4:14)
  7. Do It Anyway (4:23)
  8. Hold That Thought (4:14)
  9. Away When You Were Here (3:31)
  10. Thank You For Breaking My Heart (4:50)

Released by: Sony
Release date: September 18, 2012
Total running time: 44:28

Ben Folds Five – Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold MessnerThe fourth album from Folds, Sledge and Jessee – actually, technically only their third album since Naked Baby Photos was more of a B-side/outtake compilation slapped together by the band’s first label to capitalize on their major-label success – ventures into more adventurous and mature musical territory that one might expect, given the alternative-rock pedigree that put them on the map. Reinhold Messner introduces a more introspective and pensive side to the band, and also explores the musical possibilities of overstepping their well-known piano/fuzz bass/drum combo. Small string and brass ensembles liven up several tracks, notably “Don’t Change Your Plans”, which sounds very much like a good, smooth early 70s Chicago tune in its instrumental break. The voice and the lyrics are still true to Folds’ past work, but aside from the opening track and a couple of amusing upbeat songs halfway through the album, the music is slower and more intricate – even better than, say, “Brick” (which was no slouch). There are also indications – namely the hilarious yet strangely touching track “Your Most Valuable Possession”, which consists of a jazzy musical backing under an actual message left on Folds’ answering machine by his father – that Folds’ Rating: 4 out of 4experimental side project Fear Of Pop was a necessary testing ground for some very interesting possible future directions for Ben Folds Five. I have no reservations about nominating Reinhold Messner and Jason Falkner’s Can You Still Feel? as the best rock/pop albums of the first half of 1999. Highly recommended.

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  1. Narcolepsy (5:24)
  2. Don’t Change Your Plans (5:11)
  3. Mess (4:03)
  4. Magic (4:02)
  5. Hospital Song (2:05)
  6. Army (3:25)
  7. Your Redneck Past (3:43)
  8. Your Most Valuable Possession (1:55)
  9. Regrets (4:07)
  10. Jane (2:42)
  11. Lullabye (3:53)

Released by: Sony 550
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 40:37

Ben Folds Five – Naked Baby Photos

Naked Baby PhotosThis is a nice item to have in the old collection, but the logic behind mass-marketing it – and barely a year behind Whatever And Ever Amen, which is just starting to catch the momentum from “Brick”‘s airplay – is beyond me. It’s more like a fan club premium than anything else. Naked Baby Photos consists entirely of live tracks, previously unreleased studio sessions, and even a few outtakes where the band was just goofing around. It’s a fun listen, but in the end may distract buyers Rating: 3 out of 4from the album which is bringing the band its bread and butter right now. The best actual songs are “Eddie Walker” and “Tom & Mary”, and the most fun on this CD can be found in the live sound-check-goof-off “For Those Of Y’All Who Wear Fannie Packs”, the band’s improvised ode to their roadies – it’s a rap parody that hits the mark almost too close!

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  1. Eddie Walker (3:20)
  2. Jackson Cannery – original 7" single (4:01)
  3. Emaline (3:24)
  4. Alice Childress – live on KCRW, Los Angeles, 10-16-95 (4:21)
  5. Dick Holster (0:29)
  6. Tom & Mary (2:36)
  7. For Those Of Y’all Who Wear Fannie Packs (6:06)
  8. Bad Idea – original demo version (2:08)
  9. Underground – live, Winston-Salem, 8-12-93 (4:43)
  10. The Ultimate Sacrifice – live, Providence, 5-28-97 (3:29)
  11. Satan Is My Master – live, Winston-Salem, 8-12-95 (1:33)
  12. Julianne – live, London, 11-26-96 (2:35)
  13. Song For The Dumped – live, London, 11-26-96 (4:42)
  14. Philosophy – live, Amsterdam, 3-18-97 (4:53)
  15. Twin Falls – live, Tokyo, 2-26-96 (2:25)
  16. Boxing – live, Tokyo, 2-26-96 (4:39)

Released by: Caroline
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 55:26

Ben Folds Five

Ben Folds FiveThe first effort by this bizarre trio wasn’t as cohesive as Whatever And Ever Amen, but still offers some of the band’s best ouput. “Best Imitation Of Myself” is a very upbeat, Jellyfish-esque pop tune, and the hilarious “Underground” offers a satirical take on the 1980s’ “I want to look/act/be different – just like everyone else!” wave of mass-nonconformity. But perhaps the greatest selling points of this album are the ballads “Alice Childress” and “Boxing”, the latter a bizarrely touching tale of the Rating: 3 out of 4symbiotic relationship of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell. “Alice Childress” is a despairing fish-out-of-water story of a long distance friendship. Many of the other tunes, on the other hand, are almost too effervescent to distinguish themselves; the performances are more than satisfactory, but the songwriting was better honed on the next album.

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  1. Jackson Cannery (3:23)
  2. Philosophy (4:37)
  3. Julianne (2:31)
  4. Where’s Summer B.? (4:07)
  5. Alice Childress (4:35)
  6. Underground (4:11)
  7. Sports & Wine (2:58)
  8. Uncle Walter (3:52)
  9. Best Imitation Of Myself (2:38)
  10. Video (4:08)
  11. The Last Polka (4:34)
  12. Boxing (4:45)

Released by: Caroline
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 46:21

Ben Folds Five – Whatever And Ever Amen

Whatever And Ever AmenThis was my introduction to Ben Folds Five and reaffirmed my faith that the 90s could actually produce potentially classic pop music. By now, it is best known for the deceptively jaunty ballad “Brick”, a completely atypical Ben Folds Five tune in every sense (the gentle march rhythm, the bowed bass), but there are much better songs here. The album kicks off with the cathartically rip-roaring “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”, another hysterically funny/angry tune. Also included are “Battle Of Who Could Care Less”, the album’s first single (shunned by many stations due to that pesky F word), which bears more than a passing resemblance to Joe Jackson’s style, the harrowing ballad “Evaporated”, and my personal favorite Ben Rating: 4 out of 4Folds Five tune, the jazzy “Steven’s Last Night In Town”, a song which begs for a video with a goofy Busby Berkley production number. Though some of the language may not be suitable for the faint of heart or the prudish, I highly recommend this album as an example that the 1990s have produced something other than angry folk rock, rap and house music.

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  1. One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces (3:52)
  2. Fair (5:56)
  3. Brick (4:43)
  4. Song For The Dumped (3:40)
  5. Selfless, Cold And Composed (6:10)
  6. Kate (3:14)
  7. Smoke (4:52)
  8. Cigarette (1:38)
  9. Steven’s Last Night In Town (3:28)
  10. The Battle Of Who Could Care Less (3:16)
  11. Missing The War (4:20)
  12. Evaporated (5:41)

Released by: Epic/Sony
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 50:52