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Ben Folds Five - 'Rockin' The Suburbs'
(Tuesday September 18, 2001 1:46 PM )

Released on 24/09/2001
Label: Epic

Ever since he sent college radio and MTV into a spin back in 1997, Ben Folds has proudly strolled down the fine line between smart-arsed and clever.

It goes without saying that Folds was Ben Folds Five. Dubbed the Elton John of the 90s, he penned witty, piano-driven pop punk anthems characterised by his cutting dry lyrics and a thirst for melody and harmony - whether it was heartbreaking or joyous - that endured for many.

Now alone and solo, Ben Folds mark II is essentially the same but better. He still tinkles the ivories with dazzling skill and his scything comments on breaking-up and the emotionally inept are all too easy to identify with, yet the most enamouring thing is that he manages to do this all without being zany or patronising.

Folds successfully re-visits already conquered ground on the outstanding title track, smartly poking fun at the Durst and co brand of 'angry, middle class and white' just as BFF's alt-rock baiting 'Underground' did so well in '97.

On 'Gone', 'Annie Waits', and 'Zak and Sara', Folds blissfully hammers away at the keys with frightening swiftness while recounting more tales of separation and loneliness. As he rummages through the woes of the terminally unhappy, he once again displays his ability to write gut-wrenching ballads ('Still Fighting It', 'Fred Jones Part 2') that could set the water-works off at any minute.

So similar is this to his now defunct band that you'd be forgiven for actually thinking this was BFF's fourth album. You can forget any notions of a more mature Folds and his obvious love of simple harmonies and sarcasm continues to dominate his songwriting. He's certainly rediscovered the chirpy, biting sound of BFF's debut and proudly wears the influence of the Beach Boys to early Queen on his sleeve (just next to his heart).

As far as moving on or re-inventing himself, 'Rockin' The Suburbs' is Ben Folds treading water but at this rate he'll be afloat for a while yet.

    by Chris Heath

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