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.)


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Bright Light Social Hour
Jude Vol. 1 (Record Review)

Alejandra Ramirez, Feb. 8, 2019

Texas Platters
Charlie Faye & the Fayettes
The Whole Shebang (Record Review)

Libby Webster, Feb. 8, 2019

More by Melanie Haupt
Gluten-Free Wild Wood Bakehouse Shutters Guadalupe Location
Gluten-Free Wild Wood Bakehouse Shutters Guadalupe Location
Their second location, Wilder Wood, remains open on Seventh Street

Feb. 27, 2019

Top 10 Carby Treats
Top 10 Carby Treats
The ten best ways to indulge in a carbohydrate bomb by a bevy of talented local bakers and pastry chefs

Dec. 28, 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle