Ben Folds going solo from the Ben Folds Five, complete with guitar.
see Ben Folds Five, William Shatner
Suggested First Purchase: Rockin' the Suburbs
Rockin' the Suburbs (2001) -- The title song is a good one, but since it was the single in 2001, it made Ben Folds' solo work seem like someone who hadn't gotten past his 1990s white boy irony angst and who would eventually fall into the pit of bands like, you know, Alien Ant Farm or whatever. But the rest of the album shows different. This is, in fact, a very sad and mature album... and one that still manages to rock the suburbs from time to time. Most of the songs are about breaking up and getting back together or being let go in some other form (like "Fred Jones, Pt. 2"), and even though that's worn subject-matter, Ben Folds covers it better than most. Then you have songs like "Not the Same" which is -- as Ben described it in a live show -- "where religion and drugs meet again on the other side." Listening to "The Luckiest" either makes me want to cry or actually cry, not usually an effect songs have on me. So, yeah, not a whole lot of typical distanced 90s-style stupidity here. Touching stuff, and still good for turning up loud on your car stereo.
Ben Folds Live (2002) -- A collection of songs performed live during Ben's piano tour, the album is pretty cool for stirring up a real feeling of an almost theatrical experience, even though it's just audio. The audience and his interactions with them are nice, even when the songs are more or less played the way they are on the albums. Some of the storyteller-style spoken introductions are handy (like the one for "Not the Same"), though some are needed (such as an explanation to the new song "One Down," which I had to look up on the internet to find out what the hell he was singing about), though it's too bad that the intros aren't on the same tracks as the songs themselves (a common fault of live albums). In "Army," the audience becomes the horn section, and in "Not the Same," they become the choir, which is really pretty. It sounds like everyone in the audience knows how to sing. You also get some additional piano doodling on "Philosophy," a cover of "Tiny Dancer," and of course the impromptu "Rock This Bitch." The entire thing is really a lot more interesting than you'd expect a live album to be.
Speed Graphic EP (2003) -- Some little thing he released through his website that I got a hold of. Eventually some of the songs got a wider release with Supersunnyspeedgraphic.
Songs for Silverman (2005) -- Mostly ballady, and although it's good ballads (there's not really a bad song on the album), you kind of miss some of the more adventurous-sounding stuff from Rockin' the Suburbs. If you like clarity and focus, that's what you got here, but if you like it mixed up a bit, you'll probably like the first one better. Even a comparison between the two "song for his kid" songs show what I mean. Where "Gracie" from this album is a straightforward (again, good) sweet song about his daughter being a little girl, "Still Fighting It" from the first album (about his son) is a song where you can't even tell that that's what it's about (and, in a way, it's not). Maybe the album is more proof that rock music and domestic bliss don't mix. I want to stress again, though, that I'm just doing comparisons between the two albums, demonstrating the reasons for my preference--that this album is really solid and great.
Supersunnyspeedgraphic: The LP (2006) -- A "best of" from the internet-only releases Ben put out over the past few years. You get great stuff like the Cure cover "In Between Days" as well as things that are both good and annoying (in their ironic, judgmental ways), such as "Bitches Ain't Shit" (complete with better-than-thou air) and "Rent a Cop." A little more interesting than Songs for Silverman, showing that Folds is best when at least a little inconsistent.
Copyright (c) Nov 2004 - Nov 2006 by Rusty Likes Music