“The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind” – Ben Folds Five

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It’s definitely something special whenever an old band gets back together. When I first heard that legendary Ben Folds Five was reuniting, I was ecstatic to say the least. I can’t even remember how long ago that was, but it’s no longer important considering their new album, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind, just hit the shelves today! It’s their first full-length album since ’99 – that’s a whopping 13 years! Luckily, Ben Folds has been incredibly active as a solo musician so the trio of Folds (keys), Jessee (drums), and Sledge (bass) are by no means rusty.

The album kicks off with “Erase Me,” and right off the bat you can tell the band has already matured a ton. You’ve got all the basic Ben Folds Five qualities in this tune: Fuzz bass (which coming from a fellow bassist is very bad-ass), silly but perfectly hit harmonies, and slight jazz influence with a modern twist. Following up is the song “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” (if anyone can tell me who that is, I’d be glad to know). This is a great swing tune, completely different from the jazz tune that came before it. That’s another great thing about Ben Folds Five: every song has different roots (jazz, swing, post-disco, etc.). Robert Sledge also starts showing off in this one, and in a three-piece band with no guitarist, there’s nothing wrong with plenty of bass solos. The lyrics to “Sky High” were actually written by Darren Jessee, the drummer, and I have to say it’s one of the better songs off the album. The upright bass is a nice touch, and it keeps this song very much in the vein of Ben Folds Five’s older hit, “Brick.” The harmonies are very airy, which I guess is appropriate considering the song is called “Sky High.” The next song is the title track off the album, with the lyrics coming from author Nick Hornby. Hornby previously recorded an album with Ben Folds titled Lonely Avenue, and “The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind” is very similar to those songs. The lyrics have a completely different feel, as if a story is being told along to the music. Personally, I’m not a fan of this, but the chorus sounds like classic Ben Folds Five (call and response between Ben Folds’ lines and the harmonies). “On Being Frank” is a good example of how I think a lot of Ben Folds Five tunes could be used as show tunes. The strings and piano mix perfectly, and this is definitely another one of the more mature songs off the album. “Draw A Crowd” is a big standout on the album for me. It’s got a very serious post-disco groove to it and the ending is heavy and very fitting. This song also shows that although Ben Folds Five has gotten very mature over the years, they still throw in very immature but hilarious lyrics (“If you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall”). Next up is “Do It Anyway,” the first single off the album, and my favorite tune. Ben Folds’ piano skill shines through on this one, and Sledge throws in some more incredible bass solos. I feel bad leaving Jessee out, so I’ll mention now that his drumming is very solid throughout the whole album. This is about the part of the album where Ben Folds starts throwing in all of his softer tunes. “Hold That Thought” is a very laid-back tune, but the snare rolls help keep the song lively and moving. “Away When You Were Here” is a radio-friendly soft rock tune, the strings are nice, and the melody is catchy. “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” is definitely the saddest song on the album (the title says it all), and it’s a pretty typical ending to a Ben Folds Five album.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Folds had the following to say about this album’s lyrical content: “People my age don’t have time for this shit. They’re doing other things. What I feel like I’ve always done is say, ‘Here’s where I am in my life. I’ve climbed up to this plateau or this precipice at the moment, and I’m looking down and telling you kids, ‘Here’s what it feels like where I am.’ I think that’s good information.” In essence, he sees himself as a life coach, offering up useful information from his past experiences.

All in all, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind has plenty of old school Ben Folds Five elements while sounding way more mature. It’s also produced a lot better, and I really dig the album artwork. If you’ve listened to old Ben Folds Five and Ben Folds’ solo stuff before, and you liked what you heard, I would recommend checking this album out. If this album is your introduction to Ben Folds, I would start at the beginning.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Michael Praytor, Five Years Later, Do It Anyway, Draw A Crowd

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