In a 1999 interview, the lead singer and songwriter of the Ben Folds Five said that the next record he'd write would be the Thriller of modern rock, with eight hit songs on it. Now, two years after the trio's college-rocker, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds has released his Five-less debut solo album, Rockin' the Suburbs, and as it turns out, that may not have been an idle boast: Just about every song sounds like it could be a radio hit. Really, though, should we be surprised? This is the guy who sang his way to the Top 20 with "Brick," a ballad about teenage abortion.
On Rockin', Folds adds more offbeat ditties to his repertoire, singing about everything from growing up ("Everybody knows it sucks," he laments on "Still Fighting It"), to being stood up on a date ("You see this is why I'd rather be alone" says the protagonist in "Annie Waits"). On the title track, the poster-boy for suburban sarcasm sings -- in his best blink-182 imitation -- "Y'all don't know what it's like/Being male, middle-class and white." Then, suddenly, Ben Folds turns into Rage Against the Machine, howling, "It gets me real pissed off and it makes me wanna say, Fu-u-u-u-u-u-ck." (The song even features -- get this -- guitars, played by Folds himself.)
Meanwhile, on the pseudo-lounge "Fired," Folds croons about someone who just wants to sneak away ("I'm just an ordinary guy/And all I want is to be loved"), producing more chorusy oh-ohs and ah-ahs than a Billy Joel song. Elsewhere, on standout "The Ascent of Stan" -- full of keyboards, organs, bells and a shaker -- Folds demonstrates a certain prog rock-meets-Elton John quality, singing "Being poor was not such a drag in hindsight" in a way that, well, makes you believe he means it.
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Folds once said that it's not hard to write a catchy song if you know how, and, as if to prove it, he's gone and written an album chock-full of catchy songs. With eight hits, everyone would be kissing his ass, he said. He may be right, and you may want to pucker up. Just in case.