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Ben Folds Five


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative rock

Status:

Most recent release Ben Folds Five Live (live, 2013); most recent studio release, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind (2012)

See also:

Ben Folds' site

Frank Maynard's Ben Folds Five Site

The Ectophiles' Guide's forthcoming entry for Ben Folds' solo work

Comparisons:

Squeeze, Jellyfish

Covers/own material:

Mostly original material, a few covers.

General comments:

See individual album comments below.

Comments about live performance:

Ben Folds Five was a blast! They looked like they were having a good time, at least. Besides, I have a soft spot for "wise-guy rock". Their debut's on my list of "CDs to get, maybe". (dixon@physics.berkeley.edu)

What I didn't like about Ben Folds Five: their beat and general sound had two modes that were always the same and you could predict when they would move from one to another. I actually found the lyrics annoying so I had to stop listening to them. I dunno, overall the band just sounded immature to me, even though musically they were fairly together for what they were doing. Somehow I could see them on Happy Days or something. Just seemed boring and "aren't we regular guys but look at me standing on the piano!" pretentious to me.
     I guess the worst part of Ben Folds Five for me was comparing them to Suddenly, Tammy!, who have the same instrumentation but manage to make it sound quirky and individual and their songs work against the rhythmic expectations they set up. I love that. (Neile)

What I considered to be the real musical discovery of the night, though, was Heather Nova's opening band Ben Folds Five. When they first came on, I immediately thought "Oh no, boyz with guitarz." Then they started playing, and I upgraded them to "boyz with drums, electric bass, and what sounds like a piano." Then I found myself really starting to enjoy them, and moved up where I could get a better view of the stage, and saw that it really was a piano—the most beat-up grand piano I've ever seen. But the player (the Ben Folds in the band name) was dextrous with several different musical styles, including what I could only describe as grunge-rock honky-tonk. The band sang well, had great lyrics, and commanding but friendly stage presence. I found out why the piano was so beat up when Ben did various things like play percussive bass stomps with one foot while working the other end of the keyboard with his hands, and at one point slammed the lid and walked around on top as he sang. To sum it all up, I think they're just plain fun and I would definitely go see them again.
     I have to admit that they have moments of bubblegum pop sounds that aren't my usual taste. But this is the only time I've ever had more fun listening to an opening act than the main attraction. (stevev@miser.uoregon.edu)

Recommended first album:

Ben Folds Five is generally the fan favorite.

Recordings:


Ben Folds Five

Release info:

1995—Passenger/Caroline Records, New York—PSR 9501-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Ben Folds—piano
Darren Jessee—drums
Robert Sledge—bass

Guest artists:

Ted Ehrland—violins, viola on "Boxing"
Chris Eubowsky—cello on "Boxing"

Produced by:

Caleb Southern

Comments:

I never listen to this kind of stuff. If I hadn't seen them live at the Heather Nova show I never would have heard of them at all. I can't stop listening to the album, which lives up to the promise I saw in their live show, and I haven't quite figured out why I like it so much. One reason is that under the cheerful exterior is wry humor, unexpectedly mature observation and thoughtfulness, and even gentle self-mockery. Though the themes tend to be youthful, dangerously close to love-song material a couple of times, the songs avoid being fluff pieces or wallows in self-pity. My only gripe (which may be exacerbated by the poor audio of the CD-ROM drive turned CD player that I'm using) is that the bassist is fond of distortion, which sounds out of place many times. Nevertheless, this album is holding up well under repeated listening and I expect it will be one of my favorites of the year. With a debut like this, I can't wait to hear their second release. (stevev@miser.uoregon.edu)

Highly recommended—the most carefree and fun Ben Folds Five album. Every song is GREAT (with the possible exception of "Julianne", which I find mildly annoying) and their musicianship is especially apparent here. Ben Folds Five have had a hard time escaping from the persona they created with this album: namely, a joyfully immature piano band that plays "punk rock for sissies". While I do think this album is brilliant throughout, I find that I listen to it significantly less than the other two, which have more emotional depth. Still, for a good time and a few laughs, nothing tops gems such as "Philosophy" and "Sports and Wine". (hotel_america@hotmail.com)


Whatever and Ever Amen

Release info:

1997—Sony 550 Music—BK 67762

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Ben Folds—piano
Darren Jessee—drums
Robert Sledge—bass

Guest artists:

Norwood Cheek—synthesizer space sound on "One Angry Dwarf and Two Hundred Solemn Faces"
Caleb Southern—Hammond organ on "Brick"
John Mark Painter—strings arranging and conducting on "Selfless, Cold and Composed":
     David Davidson, Chris Teale—violin
     Kristin Wilkinson—viola
     John Catchings—cello
Members of the Klezmatics on "Steven's Last Night in Town":
     Alicia Suigals—violin
     Frank London—trumpet
     Matt Darrian—clarinet
Strings arranged by John Mark Painter on "Evaporated":
     John Catchings—cello

Produced by:

Caleb Southern and Ben Folds

Comments:

Must have—I truly think this is one of the best releases of the '90s by ANY band. The songs feel like classics from the first listen...the riffs and vocal melodies are familiar and yet totally original. The band expands on the emotional range of their first album, packing more playful numbers like "Song for the Dumped" and "Battle of Who Could Care Less" right next to devastatingly personal ones like "Selfish, Cold and Composed" (considered by many to be Ben Folds Five's best song) and the powerful "Missing the War". It is this balance between humor and seriousness that keeps this album compelling all the way through. The band also makes use of orchestration on a larger scale, as they are backed up by a string section on "Selfless" and (believe it or not) a Klezmer Band on "Steven's Last Night in Town". I listen to this album more than the first, but less than Reinhold Messner, perhaps because I tend to appreciate Ben Folds' more moody, concepty side. Still, I think this album is literally perfect in every way and I highly recommend it to EVERYONE, regardless of musical taste. (hotel_america@hotmail.com)

While to me not quite as brilliant as their debut album, Whatever and Ever Amen is still very good, and has a few interesting changes in direction. It's not as much a rockin' feel-good album as Ben Folds Five, with some more serious or somber moments, and more musical variety. (stevev@miser.uoregon.edu)


Naked Baby Photos

Release info:

1998—Caroline Records—CAR 7554

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Mostly for fans, a collection of unreleased tracks, B-sides, and live tracks.

Group members:

Ben Folds—piano
Darren Jessee—drums
Robert Sledge—bass

Comments:

This isn't bad for an odds-and-sods album. There are some real gems of unreleased tracks ("Emmaline" is one of those perfect little pop songs), good live recordings of some fan favorites, and some improvised oddities you will probably either love or hate—I find "For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fanny Packs" hilarious, especially considering that it was more or less made up on the spot during a sound check, but some people really hate it. (stevev@miser.uoregon.edu)

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Release info:

1999—Sony/550—BK 69808

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Darren Jessee—drums
Ben Folds—piano
Robert Sledge—bass

Guest artists:

Jane Scarpantoni—cello
Antoine Silverman—violin
Mark Feldman—violin
Lorenza Ponce—violin
John Mark Painter—flugelhorn, valve trombone
Tom Maxell—tenor saxophone
Paul Shapiro—tenor saxophone
Ken Mosher—baritone & alto saxophone
Frank London—trumpet

Produced by:

Caleb Southern

Comments:

Highly recommended—I think Rolling Stone called it the "concept album that Billy Joel never made"...I disagree. Ben Folds and Co. reach a level of personal expression here that Billy Joel never dared to approach. It's truly amazing that the group has progressed this far in only three albums' time; the stylistic variation and emotional depth displayed on this album is remarkable. The album certainly plays like a concept album, with various songs leading into one another and themes tying one song to the next...there's even a jazz jam session laid over the back of an answering machine message left by Dean Folds, Ben's dad! "Regrets" breaks out into a glorious reinterpretation of '70s arena rock, and the bridge in "Your Redneck Past" is a goofy take on '60s lounge piano. The seriousness of the themes presented in songs like "Mess" and "Don't Change Your Plans" are proof that the carefree, immature boys who used to stand on the piano and sing about fanny packs are gone. Instead, we have a very tight group of talented, postmodern musicians who are making pop music that no one has really heard before. While this album is not necessarily as "enjoyable" as Whatever and Ever Amen, it's perhaps more rewarding in the end. (hotel_america@hotmail.com)

I love the first half of this album (up through "Army") and the last song, "Lullaby", which is sweet, heartfelt, and charmingly surreal. The remaining tracks sound like they could have been on Folds's odd solo album "Fear of Pop, Volume I", and I frequently skip them. Nevertheless, as their final album this is Ben Folds Five at the height of their musical skill. (stevev@miser.uoregon.edu)


Further info:

Glenn McDonald's The War Against Silence music review site has a rave review of the eponymous Ben Folds Five album and a positive, if more restrained, review of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.


Thanks to Steve VanDevender for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2015-05-27 21:49:54.
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