JOPLIN, Mo. —
Finally, Ben Folds has released the album I’ve been waiting 13 years for.
Sure, he’s been busy in the years between 1999 and 2012, the release years for the last two Ben Folds Five albums. As a soloist he released four other albums.
But I really didn’t care about them. I missed the sound of the Five too much.
So when I got to listen to “The Sound of the Life of the Mind,” I geeked out a little more than usual.
As I look at my music library, I see exponentially more bands than soloists. Because I tend to listen to melodies and chords before lyrics, I gravitate more toward bands, which generally have more unique, identifiable styles than solo singers.
When a singer or other musician leaves a band and goes out on their own, I just don’t get behind it. I identify the voice or sound as being part of a band, and without the other members, the one just doesn’t sound as good.
Serj Tankian just isn’t the same without the rest of the guys from System of a Down. He’s an incredible vocalist, but none of his solo songs match the power in “Toxicity,” “Spiders” or “Question!”
(I have separate issues with System, as well: When a band has a powerful singer like Tankian, why let guitarist Daron Malakian sing lead? That’s like benching Drew Brees and letting Darren Sproles quarterback the Saints offense.)
- Dave Matthews, to me, is nothing without the Band. His solo stuff probably makes just as many girls melt as “Crash Into Me,” but it’s hard to hear his voice without the rest of the band. It’s such a unique sound -- why keep from expanding it?
- Even my beloved Dream Theater must stay together. I haven’t dived into any of the band members’ solo work, and there’s a lot of it. I’m sure it’s brilliant. I just don’t want to be disappointed by hearing one of them without the rest of the band.
Ben Folds has been guilty of the same. Ben Folds Five hooked my curiosity with “Brick,” the band’s breakout hit. That led me to discover “Underground,” and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Folds is a compelling, talented songwriter and lyricist, true. But his sound with drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge has a fuzzy, TV show theme song vibe that is enervating and emotional.
That’s what I mean when I say “The Sound” is the album I’ve waited for. It has its share of smirking, empowering anthems and pop-friendly hooks. “Do It Anyway” is a madcap rush of a mix between country and metal. “Erase Me” is an orchestrated masterpiece. And the title track, written by “High Fidelity” author Nick Hornby, is a soaring, heartfelt ride.
The track getting the most listens (between other BFF fans in the newsroom and me) is “Draw Something.” The song is this album’s “My Philosophy,” “Army” or “Song for the Dumped.” A brilliantly immature sketch becomes a movement of defiance and action in the face of defeat after listening to this song and taking its message to heart. I should also mention that I take no responsibility for anyone following the song’s artistic advice.
I’m glad to hear the boys are back, and hope another album doesn’t take another 13 years to get here.