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Fans of the piano have been sorely neglected over the years - Ivory twinklers have been few and far between, with (unfortunately) Billy Joel and Elton John dominating the genre like two ageing gods. Thankfully, Ben Folds is here to ruffle a few feathers.
An accomplished pianist, with an offbeat sense of humour, indie credibility and a clutch of tales relating to growing up/finding love/fitting in - Mr Folds and his band (Only three of them in total by the way) charm their way into the listeners hearts with three-part harmonies and rolling drums, dirty basslines and delightfully varied lyrics.
First single 'Underground' is about as kooky as they get, acting as a cousin to Weezer's 'Buddy Holly' and Nada Surf's 'Popular. Penultimate track 'The Last Polka' is the best song on an album of great ones, a driving, stomping effort that you can imagine Jerry Lee Lewis tapping his feet to.
"Ben Folds Five" by Ben Folds Five (1995)
Folds characterises his music as "Punk rock for sissies" and my copy of the album has a sticker on the front that says "The best thing to come out of America since Star Wars." It might appeal to fans of Elton John and Todd Rundgren and Randy Newman who are open to a more raucous sound. Most people would probably be unable to tell that there are no guitars to be found anywhere on the record.
For the uninitiated, the gag is there are just three of them:
Ben Folds: Piano
Robert Sledge: Bass
Darren Jessee: Drums
One - Jackson Cannery
This sets the tone for the whole record and establishes that somehow Folds has figured out how to play the piano like a guitar. The bass is fuzzy and fills out the sound noisily and the percussion sets a fast beat. It honestly does sound like there must be five people in the band. Folds sounds whimsically earnest and sings his lively but impenetrable lyrics in a throaty falsetto. "Big brother got the keys and I got Jackson Cannery." I'm just guessing, but I think "big brother" has overthrown "mother nature", so now this guy's inheritance is to go and work in the factory, and he's cracking up.
Two - Philosophy
This one has a majestic sweep musically that's slightly at odds with the rock and roll style as the piano twinkles everywhere it wants to and the dirty bass grizzles. The harmonies are subversive and the words are fun but well grounded. There's plenty of energy and rhythm. "Yeah I'm crazy but I get the job done." One of the standout tracks, although there are many. The lyric is ostensibly about an architect that's building something to last, but it also seems to be a metaphor for sex.
Three - Julianne
This has a really gruff and kinetic feel to the music. Ben has a one-night-stand with a girl who looks like Axl Rose. His friend admonishes him but he can only feel guilty for not feeling guilty for ditching the girl. There's a wonderfully unfinished rhyming couplet: "I'll sing a song yeah and it won't be the blues / 'cause I don't miss Julianne." Hint: think of The Sound of Music.
Four - Where's Summer B?
Summery with a strong and confident beat of bass and piano chords and a little bit of distortion rumbling beneath the rolling piano licks and backing harmonies. The lyrics relate what's been happening with a bunch of friends. "Nothing changes ever changes / doesn't feel the same these days." Ben wants to know why Summer didn't stick around and where she's been. Full of the busy little feelings of doubt that mark the assurance that life goes on as he reflects what might happen and what has gone on. He also seems to be gradually figuring out that one of his friends is being cheated on.
Five - Alice Childress
Gorgeous piano ballad with a great melody and a tinge of sadness filtered through optimism. The structure and dynamics of the arrangement are impeccable. It sounds like a song about lost love although interviews suggest Folds' primary meaning is more oblique than that. The lyrics are fantastic. If I was really pushed to parse them I'd say they're about integrity. "Alice, the world is full of ugly things / that you can't change / pretend it's not that way." A great vocal performance too.
Six - Underground
The introduction is practically a comedy skit with a Greek chorus of Christmas ghosts rattling their chains at the memories of school days past. Or something. Then the song bounces into tight and brightly cheerful life as these formerly uncool kids revel in the tongue and cheek "underground" party scene. The lyrics mock pretty much everybody and everything in the most friendly manner possible. "I love to mix in circles, cliques and social coteries / Hand me my nose ring". There are some great piano riffs and the song finishes with a jazzy outro. The backing vocals are simply demented. The most well known song on the record, it fondly skewers the band's hipster pretensions with considerable glee.
Seven - Sports & Wine
This track has some wonderful passages of piano solo and an enjoyably quick tempo but the backing vocals aren't quite as cleverly worked out as they are elsewhere and the theme of the words feels a bit like a retread of the last song only transferred from the post-college indie scene to the dinner party circuit. Once again it finishes with a jazz arrangement, with the drumming particularly prominent this time. "Oh my, we're all impressed how sensitive you are".
Eight - Uncle Walter
To be honest this song sounds an awful lot like Sports & Wine to me so the two sit well together in the track sequencing. Perhaps they could have been conflated into a single song. I think I prefer this one out of the two. The music rather hurries along and perhaps isn't as charmingly constructed as some of the others although the song always remains entertaining. The lyrics are a little scattershot. Uncle Walter is "the voice of fifty years experience" that nobody wants to talk to at a party.
Nine - Best Imitation of Myself
A piano ballad that can't find the same glorious heights as Alice Childress and unexpectedly sounds a bit like a Meat Loaf song in a couple of places as it strays into musical theatre. The lyrics are about how we sometimes try and be who other people think we are but fool only ourselves if we avoid self-definition. "Yes it's uncanny to see / You'd really think it was me".
Ten - Video
The song seems to mourn how technology is stripping life of its meaning and wonders if "naturally selection has weeded" out humour. Folds rolls his eyes at the day when "I'll be stone-faced and pale / you'll pout in stereo" either in a music video or perhaps just in a family album. In fact, perhaps the whole world is becoming two dimensional, and doors and curtains seem to exist in contrast to the volume control of the TV screen. The last verse sounds particularly fatalistic in that "old friends sort of die or just turn into whatever must've been inside them and whatever all of us had then in common grew up and left home we don't think that way no more." Except he's counting the days down until whatever's inside him is inside the TV screen and its time for somebody to turn the volume down. I think the song is about how change is inevitable and people should look outside instead of inside, if they want to be thrilled about what they've got instead of miserable about what they lost. The piano tumbles all over the rhythm section in between the plaintive verses.
Eleven - The Last Polka
A busily enthusiastic polka with some mournfully quiet interludes as the lyric evokes a troubled romance: "You've been pushing me like I was a sore tooth". The piano comes in exuberant rolls with lively drumming and the vocal has an ongoing fragility amidst the noise as it looks for space to think.
Twelve - Boxing
The trio are joined by violin, viola and cello for the quietest song on the record and it sounds like we've arrived in a moment of stormy peacefulness as an aging boxer marvels at the elegance of how his dreams have outfought him. "I take a good swing at all my dreams. They pivot and slip. I drop my fists and they're back, laughing". The whole song is being sung out of frame to somebody called Howard, and he asks: "Has boxing been good to you?" Perhaps we're listening to Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali ("They seem to think I'm made of clay") but really it's a metaphor for all of us: "Well sometimes I punch myself as hard as I can". Whoever found a guy called Chris Eubank to play the cello on this song has a wicked sense of humour.
When ben folds five first appeared they used to call their music "punk rock for sissies". While the music contained on this album retains much of the punk rock attitude (an attitude i find sadly lacking on ben folds later, more radio friendly works) it is also influenced heavily by queen, elton john, little richard, chuck berry, thelonious monk and everyone in between.
The band is actually a three peice, consisting of Ben Folds on piano and vocals, drums and bass (both adding harmonies to the sound). The sound is much bigger than a lot of four or five peice bands, due to every band member giving it their most, and the use of fuzz bass to thicken up the bass sound.
The lyrics are both touching and funny at the same time, on example - Ben sings "I met this girl she looked like axle rose/ got drunk and took her home and she slept in my clothes"
Ben Folds are a very unique and refreshing band, would definitely recommend checking this album out.
Now that this band are no more, with only Ben Folds seeming to remain in the public eye, the eponymous "Ben Folds Five" stands as this band's finest work. Ben Folds Five produced an eclectic mix of piano, bass and drums with the piano taking the place of the lead guitar to create a very new take on the traditional and somewhat tired formula of the three piece band. Undoubtedly it is Ben Folds' own creativity not only as a song writer but also at the piano keyboard and as a sometimes harsh yet engaging vocalist that is the centre piece of this work. Mixing beautiful set pieces with some hardcore ivory pounding, Ben Folds proves that you can give as good a performance from a keyboard as you can from a guitar. For those of us struggling with the fact that we picked the piano and not the guitar as children, Ben Folds is an inspiration in showmanship mixed with obvious musical ability. Beyond the quality and originality of the music, the most interesting thing about this album is that it is one of the only albums that I have bought recently that sounds like the band intended for it to be listened to from start to finish. This isn't a concept album, there is no link from one song to the next (at least, I can't find one .. I'd love to find out about one if anyone knows), yet there is the definite feeling of being taken on an emotional journey; from the upbeat "Jackson Cannery", through the anarchic sentiments of "Underground", to the quietly depressing tones of "Boxing" .. this is an ALBUM, not a collection of singles with filler tracks between. I would recommend this album to anyone who is looking for something to help broaden their musical collection, as it sure to be looked back on as one of the greatest albums that never really happened. It's a shame that Ben Folds Five won't be releasing anything else, but we can at least thank them for giving us this.
Ben Folds Five are like a security blanket to me. As long as i have them everything will be alright. So as you can imagine (and all BF5 fans will know what i am feeling) when the news came to me that they had, in fact split up i was unconsolable. Disaster struck and i refused to go to lectures. I have overcome this now and feel a bit better. This album is the best i own. No matter how i feel i know if i put this album on i will smile. The best track on the album has to be Philosophy 'won't you look up at the skyline, at the mortor block and glass...' and closely followed by 'Wheres Summer B?' and in fact i love them all. This is the best album they have released as i dont think there is one song on there that i skip on the CD. This is totally unlike me as i am very impatient. My recommendation is to buy the album because it will be the best thing you will ever have done. Sex included.
Ben Folds Five, the recently split trio from North Carolina. Ben Folds Five consist[ed] of: Ben Folds - Piano & Vocals Robert Sledge - Bass Darren Jesse - Drums All three are talented musicians, playing and singing very well. The combination of piano, bass and drums, with no guitar is rare in a reasonably successful band these days. The type of music produced may not be to everyones taste, however, the album is very listenable - Just try it. The album is essentially happy and upbeat. There are a great range of songs within the album, every track enjoyable. ---------- The tracks on the album are: 1. Jackson Cannery 2. Philosophy 3. Julianne 4. Where's Summer B? 5. Alice Childress 6. Underground 7. Sports and Wine 8. Uncle Walter 9. Best Imitation of Myself 10. Video 11. The Last Polka 12. Boxing ---------- My favorite picks from the album are: 4. Where's Summer B? - A happy, upbeat number you can sing along to. Talking about happy summer times. 6. Underground - THE geek anthem. "I Was Never Cool In School" the song kicks off. This is a stunning, but slightly strange track. If you like this, check out the live version on the "Naked Baby Photos" album. 10. Video - A great track, with a very good chorus. 12. Boxing - A quieter song, beautifully constructed. The piano is really well played. ---------- This album is the most upbeat of their albums, and their tracks work[ed] very well live. I would recommend this album for easy listening, happy people. Jamie :-P
I have found with most artists that the debut album can generally be quite a bit different to the later sound from the band. An example of this would be The Divine Comedy. Not so with Ben Folds Five, who on their eponymously named debut album have the same mix of happy-go-lucky/sad songs as on their other albums. Excellent lyrics, catchy tunes, and beautiful harmonies can all be found here as well as on the later albums by the band. There are some songs here that are so catchy you may well be thinking about them and playing them on the jukebox in your head for months to come. Tracks such as 'Underground' and 'Sports and Wine', both of which can be found on this album, are arguably among the band's best tracks. Certainly 'Underground' has become somewhat of an anthem for the socially inept among us. Truly gold stuff. I think the best compliment I can give Ben Folds Five's 'Ben Folds Five' is that there is not one track that I can skip past when listening to this, despite the range of tempo, style, and emotion in each song. A must-buy.
Ben Folds Five are the kind of group that only come around once in a while. They are funny, their songs are catchy and they are not afraid to say exactly what they feel. This is their first album and it is really very, very good. There is a good mix of songs, from the loud to the funny to the heartfelt. They seem to have put a bit of everything into this album which makes it really very special. This album is worth listening to is you like bands like the Barenaked Ladies, and basically want something that is fun to listen to. Ben Folds has a great voice and is a talented piano player, the use of which really makes their music stand out as well. This album marked the start of great things to come.
Ben Folds Five are a breath of fresh air to pop music. They have a unique sound that‘s nearest comparison is Elton John pre cheese. They consist of a piano, bass and drums. All the members of the group are brilliant musicians, sing-amazing harmonies and are definitely worth seeing live. Have I also mentioned the fact that Ben Folds is a brilliant lyricist. Well he is. Their self-titled debut album show’s them in a more poppy upbeat mood to their later albums. Song’s like Uncle Walter and Summer B can’t help but make you smile. They also produce excellent ballads like boxing. This album also contains the live favourite ‘Underground’ a geek anthem. Ben Folds Five are a popular Internet band. By that I mean there are loads of sites about them and various news groups run by obsessive fans. It won’t be long before they become massive so beat the rush and listen to them today!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Jackson Cannery
4 Where's Summer B
5 Alice Childress
7 Sports And Wine
8 Uncle Walter
9 Best Imitation Of Myself
11 Last Polka