Alt Tuesday: Ben Folds

It’s pretty rare to see a songwriter break away from his original band and start a more successful solo project. But Ben Folds is a resourceful guy. Before forming Ben Folds Five, he was a percussion major at UMiami and played the hell out of the bass and piano in his down time. Ben Folds Five disbanded in the early 2000s and Folds was left to record most of the instruments for Rockin’ the Suburbs, his 2001 release, alone. This task may have been a problem for mere mortals, but after a week of listening to the 12 song LP, I’ve figured out that Folds is no mere mortal.

The album begins with the energetic “Annie Waits,” which properly sets the tone for the album by alternating a catchy piano riff with precisely placed claps. The track is layered with strong bass lines and several keyboards that are a strong part of Folds’ signature sound. One of the album’s strongest tracks, “Zak And Sara,” follows with thundering mixolydian piano arpeggios and lyrics about two oddball lovers navigating their young lives together. A delightful version of the song with Ben Folds and WASO is posted below:

The emerging pattern displayed here continues throughout the rest of the album. Most of Folds’ tunes tell tragic stories of the downfalls of various members of suburbia. “The Ascent of Stan” tells the story of an ex-hippie who has gone corporate, while “Fred Jones Part 2” is about a man who was fired from his job at an old age. The first nine tracks generally follow this trend and leave the listener thinking, “Alright Ben… suburban life isn’t that bad…” Well. Ben thought the same thing.

The title track, “Rockin’ the Suburbs” shows Folds’ lighter side. The hit single sarcastically plays upon the angsty cry of many modern musicians, displaying hilarious lyrics such as “I’ll take the checks and face the facts / That some producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks.” It’s tough to not crack a smile when Folds insists “Y’all don’t know what it’s like / being male, middle class, and white” in his toughest rapper voice. For those who aren’t into piano based “punk for pussies” (as Folds describes his music), “Rockin’ the Suburbs” is a fantastic gateway song.

All in all, Folds does quite well on his own. If you are in the mood to smile at a quirky lyric or tap your foot to some undeniably catchy piano melodies, this is the album for you.

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