Seventeen years ago, a trio of musicians delivered their debut, self-titled album. Of course, this should end with “and the rest is history,” but that’s not the case with Ben Folds Five. Instead, Ben Folds, Robert Sledge, and Darren Jessee made a couple more albums, then ended their collective careers together, splitting off and doing their respective side projects – and one incredibly successful solo career. Seventeen years later, the trio is back with The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind, and its a rather successful trip down memory lane not without some hiccups along the way.
The first track “Erase Me” is the biggest hiccup of them all on the album. The song is over dramatic, under achieving mess that goes on for far too long. It left a rather sour taste in my mouth – something that I have yet to have with any Ben Folds release. It is later absolved with the following track, “Michael Prayter, Five Years Later;” a head bobbing good four minutes of true Ben Folds falsetto and bouncy back beat. “Draw A Crowd” is the typical Ben Folds farce, with rather funny lyrics including the chorus “Whoa, if you’re feeling small/And you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall.” Following that is the first single, “Do It Anyways.” The song at first listen feels very disjointed, but with multiple listenings you’ll get used to the fantastic (and almost random sounding) piano playing from Folds.
If you know any of Ben Folds’ past material, you know he can make a ballad as good as anyone out there today. The title track could easily be placed on Whatever and Ever Amen, with that unique chord progression and storytelling that Folds is known for. “on Being Frank” follows, and continues with the bluesy calm which makes for a great listening experience.
I do have some gripes with the album, one of which being how it sounds. Sure, I’ve said it sounds great, but it sounds like a typical Ben Folds album. Even with the presence of Sledge and Jessee, the entirety of The Sound is something reminiscent to recent Folds material. There are some moments where the two of them sing along, but it doesn’t make a cohesive effort to sound different. Instead, it sounds like a true sequel to Way To Normal.
For this album to be made, the band set out to ask us fans for pledges. Last time I checked, it got over 300% of what it needed to fund the album. So I felt a little bit let down that there were only ten songs on the album. Even three more songs would’ve made the album feel a little bit more whole. Nine out of the ten songs were nice, but even more I think would’ve given this album just that much more of a boost.
All in all, this is a good first step back into the swing of things for the trio. There is only one miss on the album, which in comparison makes every song after it sound fantastic. I don’t necessarily think that it beats out their previous material, but still makes for a good outing from a group of guys who still have their best years ahead of them.
Final Grade: B
Go Download: “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”