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Ben Folds

Rockin' the Suburbs

Release Date: 09.11.01
Record label: epic
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.


Moving-Life Portraits
by: bill aicher

The move from band leader to solo artist can be one of the most dangerous an artist makes in his career. Sting managed to do it successfully, and enjoys greater recognition today than he ever did as frontman of The Police. Still, who really knows what Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket or Evan Dando of the Lemonheads are doing today? A few people at best. So when Ben Folds announced he would be continuing as a solo artist after Ben Folds Five's breakup in 2000, he was treading in dangerous waters.

Fortunately, Folds had two things going for him. One was the fact that his previous band bore his name - instant recognition (again, who even knows that Evan Dando was the frontman of The Lemonheads these days?). The other was his indisputable talent, both as a musician and a singer/songwriter.

Trading in the strict piano / bass/ drums formula Ben Folds Five had stuck so rigidly in the past (barring the failed, yet impressive Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner) for an array of keyboards, drum sequencers, guitars(!), and his ever-present Baldwin piano, Rockin' the Suburbs expands Folds' sound both musically and introspectively as well. From the 80's handclap / drum machine and piano sound of the opening track "Annie Waits" to the Brian Wilson harmonies of "Gone" to the solo piano of "The Luckiest" (Folds' first true love song), Suburbs shines throughout.

In addition to Folds' superb instrumentation is a new seriousness and maturity in lyrics throughout the album. Songs of angst and geekdom from the past have been replaced with a variety of character sketches and stories - half the songs on Suburbs include characters' names.

The album's biggest downside is the title track itself. While Folds' has created a funny parody knocking the sounds of recent rock phenoms such as Limp Bizkit, the track doesn't fit the rest of the album with it's harder edge and sarcastic lyrics. Misplacement aside, it remains a strong track and a nice break for Folds to let his humorous side out.

With Rockin' the Suburbs, Folds has proven that not only can he succeed as a solo artist, but it is quite possible that the "Five" had been holding him back. Easily one of 2001's best.
13-Dec-200 11:10 AM