Ben Folds

Ben Folds Five


Originally released: 2004
Passenger Records

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Playing the piano is what geeky kids do when their parents force them to. Playing indie rock is what geeky kids do when they grow up. Ben Folds does both: He's the gangly, dervishlike frontman and keyboard pounder for the misnamed trio that bears his name. He's got solid geek credentials; he has even penned a sarcastic paean to the indie-rock scene ("Underground") that celebrates the scene's role as a trendy haven for teenage rejects and emotional wallflowers. Folds is also a truly formidable talent, brimming over with melodic gifts, efficacious verbal command and protean musical instincts. His frenzied fingers and adroitly infectious songwriting lay the foundation for one of 1995's more delightful records – perhaps the debut of the year, even.

Ben Folds Five delivers pop bliss in a jaunty piano-bass-drums package. Its immediate charms are a shamelessly twee surface and an irresistible tap-along factor, although Folds' two-handed swoops make for some challenging air piano. Todd Rundgren's white-soul power pop is the most transparent influence; that's a fairly unimpeachable source, and besides, the job of making classic Rundgren records has been vacant for years. Folds also whips up tasty bits of self-conscious fake funk, dexterous Dixie barrelhouse and, on the cutting and dramatic doomed-romance epic "The Last Polka," actual polka. He's driven along by bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee, whose hiccups, twists and swings provide a flowing response to the challenge of an all-rhythm lineup. They're also handy with the bubblegum backing vocals.

Beneath their sweet veneer, though, Ben Folds Five hit hard and deep, thanks to vivid playing and Folds' stellar songs. The shifting, effervescent melodies are just one part of Fold's craft. His lyrics are understated and wry; they roll merrily from satirical character sketches (the curmudgeonly portrait of "Uncle Walter") to light introspection ("Best Imitation of Myself," "Philosophy") to snappy details à la "Julianne," which begins: "I met this girl, she looked like Axl Rose/Got drunk and took her home, and we slept in our clothes." Geek. (RS 718)


JASON COHE




Track List

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