ROCKIN’ THE SUBURBS by ben folds

by Gordon


Pitchfork: 6.3          Rolling Stone: 3/5          Metacritic: 75          Spin: 3.5/5



Released: September 2001
  1. Annie Waits
  2. Zak and Sara
  3. Still Fighting It
  4. Gone
  5. Fred Jones Part 2
  6. The Ascent of Stan
  7. Losing Lisa
  8. Carrying Cathy
  9. Not the Same [LISTEN]

  10. Rockin’ The Suburbs
  11. Fired
  12. The Luckiest

   This is an album that in some respects is old news, but of all of Folds’ releases, it is by its own merit the most deserving of a review. As a piano player and fan for most of my life, certain songs or artists who make great use of the instrument have always stood out to me. Some time in high school, I remembered an old music video I’d seen on MTV years earlier. It had a beautiful melody and piano riff to it. The song was “Brick” by Ben Folds Five, and upon realizing this, I went to the store and bought all three of their studio releases. I gradually came to really love their music and Folds’ carefree lyrical attitude. When I found out Folds had gone solo and had just released an album, I grabbed it right away…good thing too.

   The album as a whole is spectacular, almost every song instantly enjoyable. And seeing as Folds himself played almost every part himself (including drums and guitar), only makes it more commendable. The opening track, “Annie Waits”, introduces the album with a great thumping chord progression, then gradually layers itself with increasingly intensifying vocals, strings and claps in a symphonic finish. The pace barrels on as “Zak and Sara” immediately begins showing off Folds’ speedy finger talents in a four-chord, upbeat narrative of a boy named Zak and a girl named Sara.

   The next track, “Still Fighting It”, though at times aggressive, takes you back to the “Brick”-like formula, with a tenderly sung story of father and son and how growing up “sucks”. “Gone” then brings you right back to banging keys and crashing cymbals with the ultra-catchy unfolding of a breakup story (“I know that you went straight to someone else/while I work through all this shit here by myself”), a commonly told story stretching through most of Folds’ work. The next track, “Fred Jones Part 2”, settles you into an emotional piano ballad of a retired newspaper man where either the strings or lyrics cause a tug at the heart.

   A few other standout tracks: “Not The Same” is a personal favorite. A steady drumbeat and some great piano chords are the backdrop for the story of change in people. The track becomes increasingly powerful as more layers of Folds’ vocals pile on, mostly in the form of oohs and ahhs. “Rockin’ the Suburbs” and “Fired” are great upbeat tracks with Folds’ energy released through music and voice (they also both utilize great uses of “fuck”). The final track, The Luckiest, is both one of the most beautiful piano AND love songs I’ve ever heard. Through poignant hypotheticals (“What if I’d been born 50 years before you in a house on a street where you lived/Maybe I’d be outside as you passed on your bike/Would I know?”) and honest heart-driven lyrics (“I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you”), it’s a lovely way to end Folds’ freshman debut as a solo artist.

   All in all, the album, ripe with all the same reasons you loved Ben Folds and fresh with new ones, is an emotional up-and-down thrill to hear. Sadly, I haven’t seen either of his two more recent albums live up to it (though they certainly don’t entirely miss the mark). But for the curious or those looking to rekindle their Folds affection, you need not look further than Rockin’ the Suburbs.

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