The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. Awesome.

As anyone that read this post will know, I’m a big Ben Folds Five fan, and as such I pledged towards their new album.  Because of this I have it a week before it’s official launch date of September 18th.  Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty awesome.  I would say that, but I promise you it really is, anyone who claims to love music should at least appreciate it on some level,and anyone with any taste will love it.  I’m not really a reviewer, not in the sense of giving a balanced, unbiased, rounded view anyway, but I can listen, feel, and string a sentence or two together, so I’m gonna bloomin’ well review the heck out of it.  I got it early, I’ve listened to it several times already and goddamnit, I’m a dam VP.  Right then, let’s do this.
First of all it sounds like a Ben Folds Five record rather than a solo effort.  Nothing wrong with the solo stuff, in fact some of it was just as good, but there’s a certain magic added to the sound when the three (Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge) are working together.  The distinctive fuzz bass of Sledge is back, the punchy, catchy melodies are strong and constant, and the energy and joy is unmistakeable.  They’re definitely back and they’ve lost nothing in the thirteen years they’ve been away, if anything the rest has done them good.  While it sounds like The Five, it also sounds new.  There’s something different, something current that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It could be the production values, equipment used or simply that a few more musical tricks have been stuffed up their collective sleeve in their absence.  Whatever (and ever, amen), it sounds as it should – of now and of them.
Track wise, you get ten of a good length.  In recent years, three minutes thirty seems to have become the norm, but here we have an album consisting of  mostly four and a half to five minute songs.  It doesn’t sound like a lot of difference but it allows each piece to really shine, to get to where it wants and needs to go, and for each story to be told without any sense of rushing.  There are some stand out tracks, for me, the first of which is the opener ‘Erase Me‘, a quirky little number about being wiped from an ex partners life.  It is a mix of the ballads that Folds does so well, with a pounding, angry falsetto chorus that sticks in ones musical memory for days.  In a good way.  Lyrically it has some very pleasing lines, one highlight being a reference to defacing wedding photos, and these add to the attention keeping end result.  I could listen to just this one song over and over again, in fact I have.  This is followed by ‘Michael Praytor, Five Years Later‘ and ‘Sky High’, both slightly more traditional sounding tracks.  ‘Michael Praytor..’ rolls along telling the tale of its titles protagonist to a cheery, bouncy tune, with some brilliant musical interludes.  It uses its perky sound to describe how some people drop in and out of your life, how they’ve changed, and how that event can remind us how we’ve changed ourselves.  ‘Sky High’ is another familiar sounding song, harking back to later BFF albums.  It has a retrospective sheen to it and is so masterfully put together that just the opening twenty seconds cause a surge in the heart, it makes you feel sad and fortunate to be here at all at the same time.
From there we go through the title track, with lyrics by Nick Hornby (who collaborated with Folds to create the remarkably cohesive Lonely Avenue in 2010), and past ‘On Being Frank‘, a lovely slow starting, gently building tune reminiscent of Bacharach and early Elton John, that has some string backing and a bittersweet feel.  ‘Draw A Crowd‘ provides a tongue in cheek break after the heartfelt-ness of the previous two numbers, drawing from their trademark sense of humour with words like ‘oh-oh/if you’re feeling small/and you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall’ ensuring its enjoyment.  The next stand out track, and final one with a preview allowing you to click on its title and hear it is ‘Do It Anyway‘, a funky, punky ode to doing what you want, being yourself and taking risks, no matter what the cost, to you or anyone else.  It also marks the last of the more upbeat, key smashing of the tracks.  As is often the way with Ben Folds Five LPs, the tempo slows towards the end.  ‘Hold That Thought’ is supremely melodic, with a lovely little ‘oh-ah’ hook to the chorus and an otherworldly quality to the layered vocals, ‘Away When You Were Here’ is pure nostalgia, using Mr Folds mid to high range beautifully, tugging at the heart strings without ever making you feel saccharine-sick, and again string backing is implemented perfectly.
The end comes with ‘Thank You For Breaking My Heart’, a very piano-y song, as mournful as the title suggests.  It brings you back down and completes the spread of emotions you’d expect of the trio.  From foot stomping, rebellious kickers, to eye-welling tales of broken down love – stopping at confusing memory and wistful happiness along the way – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind leaves me very satisfied indeed, and crucially, the second it ends I want to start it all again.  So I’m gonna.

Now, you there! – preorder The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind on iTunes here, or get the physical version here, amongst other places.  Or forever feel a sense of loss you don’t quite understand.

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