#27 on the 2012 Musical Bacon Calendar
The Sound of the Life of the Mind by Ben Folds Five
Reunions tend to suck, regardless of whether they’re family, school, or band related. Sometimes band reunions can be the worst, nothing more than a money grab by some has been star that didn’t manage their money well when they had it and now need to make up for not having any other marketable skills. But not always. Take the Ben Folds Five, for instance. They started making music together nearly 20 years ago, stopped working together after seven, and then Ben Folds went on to have a successful solo career, sans Five. Now they’ve reunited, cut a new record, and are touring again.
But if Ben had great success as a solo artist, why get back together at all? The band surely didn’t need to. Maybe they missed each other and decided to set aside past difficulties for the greater good. Whatever the case may be, the reunion and corresponding new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, should be considered a triumph. How many other bands can you point to that took a long hiatus, reunited, and managed to create yet another fun, likable album, as if the band never broke up in the first place? I’m struggling to come up with a single example, other than Ben Folds Five.
As you probably know, the Five are actually only three: Ben Folds (songwriter, lead singer, piano player extraordinaire), Robert Sledge on bass (one of the best rock & roll names ever), and Darren Jessee on drums. Their music would best be described as “nerd rock.” Each song is a story, about a person or thing, each sounding autobiographical. They’re usually dark, twisted stories told with a smile and a curse word or two for comic effect. Ben’s voice and piano are always at the forefront, but Sledge and Jessee provide ample background vocals.
This new album, their fourth studio recording, is a quintessential Ben Folds Five album. The great video above, featuring the Fraggles, is for “Do It Anyway,” the 7th track on the record (if you’re a film geek like me, you’ll also be interested to see the storyboard animatic created for this video). Like the rest of the songs on the new album, it could not be mistaken for anyone but Ben Folds Five, recreating perfectly the sound from their previous incarnation. And with lines like “If you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall,” about the struggles of live performance, they’re every bit as fun as they used to be. If you liked them before, you’ll like them again. If you like Ben Folds’ solo work, you’ll like this, too. And if you’ve never listened to them before, pick up this album. Simply the fact that you’re still reading this post tells me you’ll really like this album.