Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ben Folds Five: "The Sound of the Life of the Mind" (album review)

It's been thirteen years since we last had an album from Ben Folds Five. Sure, we've had lots of material from Folds himself, but there's something special when the trio gets together.

Thanks to a PledgeMusic campaign (donors are listed as 'Vice Presidents of Promotion' in the liner notes), we have a new album on our hands: The Sound of the Life of the Mind.

The record demonstrates the difference between Folds' band and solo work.  It's a far more full, beefier sound with proper backing.  For example, guitars rock the bulk of "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later".

The piano is obviously still the focal point.  Even then it's been spiced up on tracks like the fast-paced piano rag "Do It Anyway" and the catchy funky barbershop "Draw a Crowd".  Folds' collaboration with Regina Spektor appears to have rub off on him on the start-and-stop refrain of "Erase Me".

More than ever the lyrics are key to the success or failure of Folds' songs.  The melodic "Hold That Thought" has more than a few clever turns-of-phrase.  The title track crams in as many references to 'great minds' as possible.

There are some weak moments as well.  The stripped-down album closer "Thank You for Breaking My Heart" is absolutely glacial.  Folds' channeling of Burt Bacharach for "On Being Frank" is ho-hum at best.

However, Folds is in vintage form on "Sky High".  He juxtaposes lovely piano and cello parts with lyrics that will keep you off-kilter as only he can.

The sound of a full band is more easily accessible than a sole piano man.  That doesn't mean The Sound of the Life of the Mind is a perfect record, but it will definitely have you reaching for it more than recent Folds solo efforts.

Ben Folds Five play the Kool Haus in Toronto on October 15th.

Best tracks: "Draw a Crowd", "Erase Me"

Track listing for The Sound of the Life of the Mind:
  • Erase Me
  • Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
  • Sky High
  • The Sound of the Life of the Mind
  • On Being Frank
  • Draw a Crowd
  • Do It Anyway
  • Hold That Thought
  • Away When You Were Here
  • Thank You for Breaking My Heart

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