Sound: Let's take a look at one of my least favorite person's review on this album. Robert Christgau is the proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics". For this album, he simply shows a symbol of a "bomb", indicating he has no words about how awful it is. I however, would like to be corny and say that this record "is" the "bomb" because of its startling consistency of moods and strong melodies.
Ben Folds, now 44, released the album in September 2001, his first solo effort after departing from the 90's rock band, "Ben Folds Five". The album begins with the light pop of "Annie Waits" and ends with my personal favorite piano ballad "The Luckiest" which ranks right up there with "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush. While he doesn't delve into multiple genres in a single record like the aforementioned, he does manage to capture different emotions in multiple rock and pop moods. "Still Fighting It" is very "singer-songwriter"-esq, while "Rockin' the Suburbs" (song) is very much a self deprecating song as well as a satire on the rock lifestyle. The sound of the record is very, very clean, with Fold's voice being emphasized above all instruments.
The use of various and eclectic instruments has never been a strength of Folds, but he is surely comfortable and confident in the soft rock sound he has developed over the years. While not seeming to break any boundaries, the record does by having a startling consistency with the strength of the lyrics written by Folds. // 10
Lyrics: As usual, unlike Christgau, I will delve into the important aspects of the album instead of just giving it a simple grade, or worse, a symbol. Ben Fold's is a clever lyricist, plain and simple. Sometimes the cleverness gets a tad much, but a listener understands that thought goes into every song.
For example, Carrying Cathy" is a good example of his cleverness interfering with his message. The verses tell the story of a girl who constantly relies on others to carry her, ultimately resulting in her downfall. At the end of the song, the phrase "there was always someone carrying Cathy" has a double meaning when the pall-bearers carry her to her grave. Personally, its a little too corny for my ears, but he means well.
In contrast are the lyrics to one of MANY stand out tracks, that being "Fred Jones Part 2". The song, like many on the album, tells a story about a social outcast, specifically a man perhaps forced to retire because of his age. Folds is able to express a larger view of life with one of the more pessimistic lines of the song- "No one has left here that knows his first name/ And life barrels on like a runaway train/Where the passengers change/They don't change anything/You get off; someone else can get on/And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones/It's time". Depressing stuff, but Folds DOES have the capability to evoke emotion without sounding cheesy or overtly clever. "The Luckiest", the final song on the album, is truly an amazing musical experience that must be listened to for full appreciation. An amazing ending to an amazing record. // 9
Overall Impression: Overall, the album is one of my favorites because of the consistency that is rare to find in a solo effort. It does have its shares of flaws, naturally. "The Ascent of Stan" is irritating at best, and the lyrics for "Carrying Cathy" are a bit too clever, but its many strengths save the album, guaranteeing prolonged life after a decade or so. It will survive. And Christgau can learn a thing or two about true analysis about a piece of art.
-Tristan // 10