Ben Folds

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Ben Folds

Rockin' the Suburbs (Sony)

Ben Folds' second solo effort is a jewel, a masterpiece, better than Cats. All the elements comprising great art are here: poignancy, depth, humor, and sarcasm. You laugh, you cry, you are made human. On paper, anyway. It's obvious on Rockin' the Suburbs that Folds has matured as a songwriter since his days with Ben Folds Five. Rockin' addresses a wide array of human predicaments: aging, waiting for love, even suicide. He's taken the deeply emotive "Brick" vibe to heart, without abandoning the cocky snideness that marked the three albums he made with the Five (not to mention the excellent, experimental Fear of Pop). That's where Folds runs into trouble. There are some great songs on this album, especially the ones that display Folds' considerable storytelling skills and attention to detail ("Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara"). He has a knack for fleshing out his characters crisply and concisely; ditto his keen ear for biting satire and bald farce. And let us not forget that Folds played every instrument on the album. It's when he tackles the Issues ("Carrying Cathy") that there's a sense of detachment keeping the listener from fully engaging with the material on an emotional level. It's like watching Keanu Reeves do Hamlet. Whether this perceived lack of sincerity is an issue of execution vs. conviction isn't really important; Rockin' is enjoyable on the whole. It's just a shame that Folds missed the opportunity to deliver on the emotional potential of his songwriting. (Ben Folds plays La Zona Rosa Saturday, Sept. 22.)

***   

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