Ben Folds Five – [Album]

Monday, 24 September 2012

Sometimes there is just no rational explanation for events when they occur. In those cases, the bottom line is that whether one accepts or rejects the fact that the event even occurred is irrelevant – the only thing that matters is how one is able to digest the information. A textbook example of the “either deal with it or don't” phenomenon came along twelve years ago when Ben Folds Five just suddenly blipped out of existence without much warning; while there must have been reasons why the band broke up, no one outside of the band was really privy to them – it was just left with the unspoken explanation that “it is what it is,” and fan had no choice but to accept it. After the split, Ben Folds went on to make solo records and produced a couple of albums for other people (including William Shatner) and the Five was left to rest; the summation was that they came, they saw and then they left – simple as that.

Except it wasn't as simple as that. Whispers of “whatever happened to?” circulated about as regularly as the release of new solo albums by Ben Folds did and, even though those records were received well enough, the talk of Ben Folds Five looked as though it would never quiet completely. Finally, when the singer began sifting through the vaults for material to include in the retrospective set, Best Impression Of Myself, in 2011, Ben Folds contacted bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee to work on a few new songs for the comp. Sparks flew – there was some magic in the moment – and then Ben Folds Five was back together again, as quickly as they'd separated twelve years before.

As if to triumphantly sound their return, “Erase Me” opens The Sound of The Life of The Mind with a comically garrish and menacing guitar belch (as if to announce, “Yup, we're back.”) and kicks into some doomy, mock vaudevillian (think Dresden Dolls) piano runs to prove that, as much as things might have changed, the band still has the same kind of wit within it. Lyrics like, “New bio, you've gone solo/ Drawing mustaches on our wedding photo” pick up just where The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner left off, but with the added benefit of having a more ambitious drive behind it; the sound is not one of a band faltering or on its way down, it's the earnest sound of a band trying to get back on top of its game. Such attractive ambition continues through songs like “On Being Frank” (which revolves around the life lesson that inspiration is only one part of the creative process – the other, more important part is having the courage to be original), “Do It Anyway,” “Draw A Crowd” and the dismissive, heartbreaker anthem “Thank You For Breaking My Heart.”In each of those cases, the band swings with a testosterone-free swagger and a mouth full of the same acerbic spit which characterized the best moments of the Five's career and illustrate that no magic has been lost over the last dozen years. Between those landmarks too (on songs like “Sky High,” “Hold That Thought” and the title track), the humor scales back a little and concedes some limelight to the band's jazz-infused craft which proves to have gone undiminished over time too. In that, Ben Folds Five makes a complete presentation of its single-minded drive to prove that the creation of The Sound of The Life of The Mind was intended to reflect the genuine desire to return – not a desire to pad bank accounts – and it works.

That said, now that the Ben Folds Five has proven that working together and producing great songs is still a possibility, the question becomes all about how long its to last. True, this album mind end up being just a one-shot deal – if the band broke up once, they could always do it again – but fans can hope that the return holds. The Sound of The Life of The Mind has enough promise that it will bait those fans into holding out hope for more new music; all we can do now is wait breathlessly to see what comes next.



The Sound of The Life of The Mind
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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