I could make this review go on for like 3 days, but I won’t.
September 18th will mark the release of North Carolina trio Ben Folds Five‘s The Sound of the Life of the Mind, their first record from Ben Folds, Darren Jessee, and Robert Sledge in 13 years. Apparently they felt the need to come up with an album title that is as long as their hiatus.
In what we’ll call their “off season”, the trio have remained versed in their musicality:
Darren has been performing as singer/songwriter in the band Hotel Lights, Robert played with bands International Orange and the Bob Sledge Band while also giving bass guitar lessons, and Ben (as most of us know) has enjoyed a fairly high profile solo career which also included a spot on NBC’s The Sing Off as a panel judge.
After not playing together for almost 10 years, Ben Folds Five (to whom I’ll start referencing as BF5) reunited for a one-time show hosted by Myspace in 2008, as a part of their Front to Back series, ultimately reuniting again a few years later for a new full-length release.
The Sound of the Life of the Mind (I hate them for making me type that over and over… and yes, I’m aware of Ctrl+C) kicks off with the jarring “Erase Me”, which reminds me of a jazzy soundtrack to a Tim Burton film. In typical BF5 fashion, the lyrics convey more serious subject matter using a more humorous writing style. I think even at one point the lyrics say, “do me like a bro and tase me” while referring to the end of a relationship when one person is quickly replaced by someone else.
Inevitably, fans will be tempted to compare this new BF5 to the old one. That’s understandable, although not entirely fair. Regardless, if you’re looking for a more classic “Ben Folds Five” sound on this release, your best bet is to check out tracks like “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”, “Do It Anyway” and “Thank You for Breaking My Heart”… the latter track being very faithful to previous album-enders like “Evaporated” or “Boxing”.
Probably the most upbeat track is the more poppy “Draw a Crowd”, which offers a nice mix between a new BF5 sound and something that Ben may have done solo. And the title track is a fascinating bed of music written by the band, set to lyrics penned by High Fidelity and About a Boy author Nick Hornby. The final chorus is one of my favorite moments on this new record.
So what do I think? The Sound of the Life of the Mind (seriously, guys…) is a more than welcome addition to the Ben Folds Five catalog. The songs are saturated with crazy bass lines, crazy harmonies, string arrangements, and some general wackiness… while still very much maintaining the sincerity and thought-provoking-ness of the more heartfelt side of the band. Overall, this new offering from “the Five” is an oddly natural progression after 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (dude… stop it with the titles). Not to sound like I’m whining, but the biggest flaw here is the fact that it’s only 10 tracks. Come on, at least give us a new song for every year we had to deal without you.
For having been away for so long, Ben, Robert and Darren certainly were able to comfortably take their seats again. Seats that have been empty for 13 years.
Categories: Album Reviews