Sony THROWBACK Ben Folds Five’s new album is a solid new recollection of their early sound.
THROWBACK Ben Folds Five’s new album is a solid new recollection of their early sound.

3/5 stars

Ben Folds and I have a pretty personal relationship. His kids went to my school in Nashville, and he used to wave to me when our cars were next to each other in the carpool line. We’re pretty much best friends.

Okay, maybe not, but I do have a personal connection with his music. I was a latecomer to Ben Folds fandom, not really paying much attention to him until a few years ago.

When Ben Folds Five first entered the music scene in the 1990s, it offered an often humorous and introspective alternative to the punk rock scene while still fitting the genre. They were white boys playing white boy music with a cheeky, angst-ridden vibe. Driven by Folds’ dynamic piano skills, the trio (an ironic aspect of the band that adds to their pseudo-joking tone) produced a few mainstream hits — “Brick” and “Army” — although they mostly remained a cult favorite.

With his solo work, Folds became a prolific solo artist in his own right, transforming his image from an angsty white boy to a suburban dad.

Because of this progression, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the newly reunited band’s latest album,The Sound of the Life of the Mind, which was released this past Tuesday. I guess I was hoping for them to get back to their roots and produce some quirky, piano-driven punk rock, but what I got was a little different.

The tone of the album was slightly washed up: It felt a little forced. Yeah, there was still the unexpected lewd reference and unnecessary cursing that buttressed their previous sound, but the fact of the matter is that — musically — Ben Folds changed, which changed the sound of the band. It felt very suburban, but not in the same way Folds’ solo career did. It sounded a little more tired than the solo stuff and lost some of its fun.

There are still the great piano-driven melodies and cheeky lyrics, but the guys are older now and aren’t living their glory days anymore. It totally fits the image of “the guys,” getting together in a garage after all these years to jam. They’re playing the same music, but it sounds a little off. Tracks like “Erase Me,” “Do It Anyway” and “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” are reminiscent of their earlier work but sound … older.

That isn’t to say that I don’t like the album. I do. It’s a solid album that, if recorded by a younger Ben Folds Five, would probably be spectacular.

But listen to this album: It’s a worthy mix of up-tempo, cheeky songs and classic Ben Folds Five piano ballads. Just don’t expect it to sound like their older stuff. You won’t be finding the next “Philosophy” or “Narcolepsy,” but the album offers up good music by a great band.

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