7:56 PM: Matthew's CD Collection, reviewed: Vol. 1

Ben Folds-Rockin' The Suburbs
2001, Epic


"He's forgotten, but not yet gone..."

Unfortunately, that line illustrates the opinion of many people in regards to Ben Folds. In 1997, Ben Folds Five was one of the biggest bands in the world. With the release of Whatever and Ever Amen..., the hit single "Brick," and a song on the blockbuster Godzilla soundtrack, Ben Folds Five were pretty much invincible. Then, two years later, they were no more. Ben Folds attempted a solo album soon after recording the bands final album, but Fear of Pop alienated many fans with it's new, more experimental direction. Even a guest vocal performance by William Shatner couldn't nudge the CD past 25,000 copies.
In 2001, however, Ben Folds, minus Robert Sledge, Darren Jessee, or any studio backup band whatsoever, picked up the pieces of Ben Folds Five, and made one of the best albums of his career.
Rockin' the Suburbs, a collection of songs about coping with break ups, boring relationships, death, and middle age. From the first few notes of the title track, "Annie Waits" to the closing ballad, "The Luckiest," you can tell that Folds has grown up a bit since his BFF days. The trademark silliness is still there, especially in the title track, an anthem for dorky caucasians everywhere: "All alone in my white boy pain/Shake your booty while the band complains." There are just as many serious songs on this disc, however, a logical extension from BFF's earnest final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Rheinhold Messner. Fred Jones Pt. 2, a continuation of the classic BFF track "Cigarette," tells the story of an aging journalist packing up his things after finding out that he's just lost his job to a young, unexperienced journalist: "And all of these bastards have taken his place/he's forgotten but not yet gone/and i'm sorry, Mr. Jones...it's time." Ben also sticks it to himself a bit on the album's wittiest track, "Ascent of Stan," a tale of an ex-hippie who has sold out to 'the man.': "Once you wanted revolution/now you're the institution/how's it feel to be the man?" Many could make the argument that Folds is selling out on this album, with his focus on slower, more serious song this time around, but it can be more logically attributed to his growth as a musician. Ben Folds has moved on from his collegiate icon days, and has made an album that represents the growth he has experience, musically, physically, and emotionally since the break-up of BFF.
Ben Folds has also (finally) expanded his musical range on this album. On many of the new tracks, you can hear an electric guitar, a synthesizer, and even an accordion, all previous no-no's in Ben Folds' songs. While these new additions figure rather prominently in a few songs, the trademark piano is still the go-to instrument in Ben's repertoire, and it sounds even better than ever, easily navigating the fast paced, energetic "Not the Same," to the slow, meditative "Carrying Cathy."
Ben Folds Five has already earned it's spot as one of the best bands of the 90's, up there with the likes of Radiohead, Pavement, The Flaming Lips, and Nirvana, and now Folds has become one of the most promising solo-artists of the early 2000's. If you have even a passing interest in indie pop, you owe it to yourself to make this your next CD purchase, or, at the very least, download.

Track List:
Annie Waits
Zak and Sara
Still Fighting It
Fred Jones, pt. 2
The Ascent of Stan
Losing Lisa
Carrying Cathy
Not The Same
Rockin the Suburbs
The Luckiest