The Life of a Band
Ben Folds Five wastes no time stomping on the piano keys and wailing a distorted bass on their fourth studio album and first in thirteen years, The Sound of the Life of the Mind. If the goal was to show how they intend to distance themselves from Ben Folds’ solo catalogue, then, mission accomplished. Reverting to the self-imposed “punk rock for sissies” description, the new music has more in common with their 1995 debut than their 1999 pre-hiatus, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner—though you will find ghosts of all three records herein. And it all keeps a respectable distance from Folds’ solo work.
Sound begins with “Erase Me,” its chorus blasting a wild melody that comes across as a chemical reaction from these three musicians once again working together. “Michael Praytor Five Years Later” sounds like it could have been on 1997’s Whatever and Ever, Amen. BF5 drummer Darren Jessee’s “Sky High” is a lovely respite that might have been at home on Unauthorized Biography. The wit and humor is present as well, such as the classy “On Being Frank,” sung from the perspective of Frank Sinatra’s manager, and “Draw a Crowd,” a catchy rocker about local bands who, frustrated by playing to empty clubs, resort to drawing penises on the walls of every dive bar green room. Sound ends with three mellow tunes, but they are among the most beautiful Folds has ever written. In “Away When You Were Here,” he speaks for anyone who lost their father as a young adult; “This morning I wake to be older then you were… every footstep will be mine.” And true to BF5 form, Sounds concludes with a waltz in “Thank You for Breaking My Heart.”
The question that remains is: Is this a one-off reunion or a new beginning? It’s clear they enjoyed the process of creating and recording, and it’s also clear Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge are as capable backup musicians as anyone else Folds recorded with in the last decade. Ben Folds has proven himself to be one of the premier songwriters of the last twenty years, and Sound does nothing to lessen that—so perhaps it’s time he let himself have fun with his old friends for a while.