So here’s the thing about Ben Folds Five: they were apart for more than 10 years before this album was written, recorded and released.
The problem is, you can’t go home again. Like a lengthy separation is wont to do, returning from more than a decade of not being a band is bound to affect the group’s signature sound.
In this case, it’s everything but a full departure from the album 13 years its senior, the classic The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and 15 whole years after the group’s seminal, breakout hit, Whatever & Ever Amen.
There’s no other way to say this: though they’re the same human beings, this is not the same band, and it’s disappointing. I know, I know, says the dude who harps on not getting your expectations up for a new album or whatever. But given the fact that in the years since the Five broke up and Folds himself led a successful solo career, buoyed by a lightning fast piano rock sound similar to what he’d already done with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee.
Instead of doing what could be viewed as the conventional thing and attempting to infuse the rambunctious, boisterous sound of Reinhold Messner and Whatever, Folds and company aimed for a stripped down, almost demure sound on their 2012 return, The Sound of the Life of the Mind.
The album was crowdfunded. I elected to go with the vinyl option, and was entirely underwhelmed my first play through. Single and opener “Erase Me” doesn’t do anything for me, as it feels disjointed, like the band was working through I don’t know, 13 or so years or rust. Something like that.
It’s not all bad though. “Michael Praytor, FIve Years Later” will remind fans of the band what they were missing – soaring, goosebump-inducing harmonies. In the same way, the bass on “Do It Anyway” – shut your mouth, what do you eat for breakfast Robert Sledge?
Don’t get me wrong: The Sound of the Life of the Mind isn’t terrible. I’m sure there are a lot of people who aged the way the band did: exchanging noisy piano rock for a reflective, more refined sound.
But as someone who devoured the way “Narcolepsy” cracks, the inventiveness of the lyrics on “The Battle of Who Could Care Less,” or the biting tone of “Song for the Dumped,” a song like “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” reeks of a band trying to capitalize on their previous popularity and the way that they broke up ‘before their time.’
It is what it is, I guess.
From The Sound of the Life of the Mind, this is “Do It Anyway” –
Standout tracks: “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later,” “The Sound of the Life of the Mind,” “Do it Anyway” and “Hold That Thought”
Weakest track: “Erase Me.” Just stop.
RIYL: Piano rock, but really, just listen to their other albums. Jukebox the Ghost.