Ben Folds' debut solo album Rockin' the Suburbs sounds, more or less, like a continuation of the now disbanded Ben Folds Five. The more I listen, the more similarities I can draw from the three albums left by Ben Folds Five. Although Ben Folds must have been the primary songwriter in the former pop/rock act, there is a certain element in the songs on Rockin' the Suburbs that is notably different. I get a sense of loneliness from the music and I can't pinpoint whether it's because drummer Daren Jesse and bassist Robert Sledge are no longer present, or because it was prevalent in the music, but something seems to be missing, not just the two musicians -- a sort of magic that Ben Folds Five created together which has slightly dimmed since their breakup in 2000.
Gone are the fun instrumental sections evident in "Stevens Last Night In Town" (Whatever and Ever Amen) and "Lullabye" (The Unauthorized Biography...); and kiss the quirky three-part harmonies goodbye, too. Despite the slight changes in their music, there's no doubt that these songs could have easily met the Ben Folds Five criteria. The music is not quite as dark as Reinhold Messner and not quite as upbeat as their self-titled release, with the variety of Whatever and Ever Amen, except with more soul; oh yeah, and less piano solos and more concentration on dynamics -- oh oh! and there's guitars, too.
But it's not only comparisons to previous Ben Folds' excursions, but also The Beatles' self-titled album (The White Album). The beautiful "Carrying Cathy" seems to give a nod to "Dear Prudence" and "Fred Jones Part 2" (reference to Whatever's "Cigarette") echoes "Julia" with its monotone demeanor. And you can't help but notice the chorus of "Losing Lisa", which basically clones the chorus of the Gordon/Bonner hit "Happy Together" made popular by The Turtles. But as always, Ben Folds' charm shines through each song, providing a fair amount of uniqueness.
At the same time, this is Ben Folds of the present, not Ben Folds of the past. And Ben Folds of the present doesn't have to live up to anything in the past; plus, its confirmed that he can still write a damn catchy song. There are a lot of great moments on the album; some songs provide a great uplifting or happy feeling, while others come off a little cheesy or typical. Most of the songs subscribe to the familiar infrastructure of pop music, coasting on light-hearted ballads and cute rockers until the end.
But despite this, it's amazing that Ben Folds can craft a song so well that he is able to play all the instruments separately, yet the music is still pieced together flawlessly. And as far as pop music goes, Rockin' the Suburbs is top of the line and provides for a fun and exciting listen from a geeky middle class white guy.
1. Annie Waits
2. Zak and Sara
3. Still Fighting It
5. Fred Jones, Pt. 2
6. The Ascent of Stan
7. Losing Lisa
8. Carrying Cathy
9. Not the Same
10. Rockin' the Suburbs
12. The Luckiest