Rockin' the Suburbs (Epic Records)
By: Alex Steininger
Ben Folds is the piano man for the new millennium. Billy Joel and Elton John are both legendary pop songwriters who will be remembered forever. So will Ben Folds. His tongue-in-cheek, sly sense of humor far exceeds those of Billy Joel and Elton John combined, pushing Folds into a whole new world.
Whereas Elton John and Billy Joel write classic pop songs with some poetic, memorable lyrics, covering everything from autobiographical to international political issues, Folds, who has taken his stab at hot political issues in the past, prefers to laugh at the stupidity and insanity of the world. Using self-deprecation and poking fun at others when needed, he always seems to be having a good time, reminiscing and dealing with remorse, happiness, love, and tragedy all with flair, rather than trying to shove some message with a deep meaning down your throat.
Take the title track off his debut solo album. "Rockin' the Suburbs," an out-of-the-box hit sure to make it big with the very same people he is mocking. With a catchy organ line running through the song, hook-laden guitar, and Folds' smart lyrics, the song is destined to be a classic.
" Let me tell ya'll what it's like / being male, middle class and white / it's a bitch, if you don't believe / listen up to my new CD/ sham on," he sings in the opening of "Rockin' the Suburbs." The chorus rings with even more tongue-in-cheek brilliance. " I'm rockin' the suburbs / just like Michael Jackson did / I'm rockin the suburbs / I take the checks and face the facts / that some producer with computers / fixes all my shitty tracks," he says with slight self-deprecating humor to it.
Unlike a lot of albums, including solo albums from front men that fronted well-known, respected acts, Folds doesn't give it all away on the single. He keeps it up throughout the entire album, serving up twelve astonishingly beautiful, poetic pop songs that are lyrically sound and musically stunning.
The opening track, "Annie Waits" is a piano-led, drum machine-infused pop-rock number, brought to life with live drums and steady bass, carried by Folds' genuine, warm and inviting voice, and cemented as a memorable song with Folds' mighty pen crafting a story worth listening to.
"Still Fighting It" is a melancholy, slow song that builds, starting out with just vocals and piano, until the full band kicks in and shoots optimism and a bounce of energy into the song.
"Fred Jones Part 2" offers up more poppy melancholy, as Folds tells us the story of a man who has lost his job at a paper after 25 years, leaving without a party, as his co-workers don't even know his first name. "I'm sorry Mr. Jones, it's time" Folds laments in the chorus, offering up little hope for Mr. Jones to do anything but fade away at his house. Strings flush out the song, bringing a tear to your eyes, as you feel absolutely terrible for the life Mr. Jones will now settle into.
As good as Folds is at unforgettable melancholy, he is equally as talented writing catchy, bouncy pop songs that jingle and jangle as they get stuck in your head. Even as Folds deals with losing his best friend and lover in "Losing Lisa", he still manages to write upbeat, positive pop that gets so ingrained into your head, you want to listen to it all the time and sing along as loud as you can.
Ben Folds' solo album is not unlike his previous band, the Ben Folds' Five. However, here he seems uninhibited, free to roam and test uncharted waters, as well as be able to explore areas he does well more thoroughly, which means an unchained (though I doubt he was ever chained) Ben Folds writing his best album to date. I'll give it an A+. It is truly one of the top five albums of the year.