“Finally! The album review I have been waiting three weeks for,” said nobody upon seeing this blog post pop up on Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, I have been mentioning doing this post since my last album review. After a couple of dozen listens of the album from start to finish, I think I have enough of an appreciation for the album and can finally give it its due.
For those that know me, or even if you just know me through this blog, you might have realized that I am a pretty big fan of Ben Folds. I spent a couple of weeks last year breaking down Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five albums by track, something that I will likely repeat in the near future, and I often use Ben Folds songs to relate to issues in my life. If Ben Folds Five decides to do a North American tour next year, I am seriously considering going full groupie and following them on tour for a bit.
That being said, I was slightly disappointed by The Sound of the Life of the Mind, the first album from the original Ben Folds Five a very long time. Not that the album is bad; it’s actually quite good and a whole lot better than a lot of music that gets much heavier radio play (not that I listen to the radio). But I may have pre-hyped it a bit too much for my own good, starting with becoming a “Dam VP” by supporting the album through Pledge Music earlier in the year. I heard the first single, “Do It Anyway,” months before release, and even though it actually debuted as a single with an awesome Nerdist-produced video featuring the Fraggles and Anna Kendrick, I was a little let down. Again, this was more a product of high expectations, but the album is still very good.
There are now four Ben Folds Five albums — Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and The Sound of the Life of the Mind. Each is great in its own way, and my perspective may change after another couple dozen times through TSotLotM, but I would currently rank the latest effort just ahead of the self-titled album in third place. Whatever and Ever Amen remains in first because it was the album that introduced me to Mr. Folds, and Reinhold Messner has definitely grown on me over the past few years, and I’ve always thought that it was better than it ever received credit for.
Nevertheless, of the ten songs, there are probably four that stick around in my head long after I have stopped listening, a good indicator of one of two things:
- A subliminal message in either the lyrics or music; or
- Just super awesomeness in general
Though I don’t quite there is anything on this album I would sing karaoke to (I have done “Song for the Dumped” and “Army” in the past if I remember correctly), there is plenty of repeat options here. My favorites thus far:
- “Do It Anyway” – If I wasn’t writing this post from a place that has YouTube blocked, I would just embed the Fraggle/Ben Folds Five video for the song, drop the mic, and walk away. Something to look forward to on Friday I guess (teaser!). It was the first song I heard off the album, and it is probably the top song at this point in time. It’s easy to see why it was chosen as the initial single, as it has all the bounciness that is often needed it Ben and crew cared about radio play. I don’t think they do, but if anything from the album is going to show up on Top 40 radio, this would probably be it, much like “Army” back in the good ol’ days.
- “Erase Me” – I’m a big fan of Track 1 on most albums. I need them to set the tone for the album, and “Erase Me’ does just that. The starting bass riff is one of Robert Sledge‘s best, on par with “Song For the Dumped.” It gets the album going in a way that none of the other songs probably could have…even if it might be a little long on the end.
- “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” – The title track is a song with lyrics by Nick Hornby, whose previous collaboration with Ben Folds turned out pretty well. A lot of typical BFF harmonies in this song, and some driving piano by the man himself. A lot of great literary, pop culture, and historical references, and as with Lonely Avenue, Hornby’s words almost seemed to be written with Folds’ music in mind. If Ben Folds released a Nick Hornby poem with music every month, I would probably go bankrupt buying them all.
- “Away When You Were Here” – This is the emo song on the album, the one that I try to fit in my life somehow. It seems to be written about the death or loss of folks close to Ben, and whether it was written from personal experience, or just from a character stand point as Ben Folds often does, I don’t know. But it’s very reflective on someone leaving the “narrator’s” life, so of course, I try to relate it to all the relationship failings in my life…which is what I tend to do with Ben Folds songs. I’ll grow out of it eventually — or I just need someone from the female persuasion to make me happy again.
I don’t really like to rate things because I’m never consistent, but I will say that this album is a must have for anyone that is already a fan of Ben Folds or the Five. If you are new to Ben Folds and his music, watch the Fraggle music video and check out some of the earlier stuff. My favorite remains Rockin’ the Suburbs, but other methods of gaining an appreciation are also welcome. Just listen and enjoy!
Until next time…