Ben Folds Five – ‘The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind’

Sarra Sedghi weighs in on the latest release from recently reunited Ben Folds Five, ‘The Sound of the Life of the Mind’.

Sarra Sedghi

out of 10

Ben Folds Five
The Sound of the Life of the Mind

On June 10, 2012, Ben Folds Five played one of their first shows in years at this year’s Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee. After breaking up in 2000, they briefly reunited in 2008, and once more in 2011.  In the meantime, Ben Folds has released several of his own albums, most recently including Lonely Avenue and The Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective. He also became a judge on NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2009. Robert Sledge joined International Orange, who broke up in 2005, and started the Robert Sledge Band afterward. Darren Jessee started Hotel Lights in 2004.

At Bonnaroo, Folds was excited about the reunion, announcing that the band would only play Ben Folds Five songs that day and occasionally bragging about how great they were. He seemed, once more, very dedicated to the “Five.”

On The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind, this shows.

Ben Folds Five remain true to their roots in this album. They are still funny – on “Draw A Crowd,” especially – and leave me enchanted, though depressed. They remain heavily influenced by jazz, and their songs still get stuck in my head – although at the moment, I mostly only know the tunes and a handful of lyrics. Sound is not Whatever and Ever Amen, but that might be because I haven’t blasted it in my car’s CD player for years.

The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind sounds good. Like really good. Let me warn you: I have been looking forward to this album for a while. The instruments are gripping. As usual, Folds is a genius at the piano and keyboard. Jessee’s drumming conveys emotions. Sledge’s bass is powerful. The violin in “On Being Frank” and “Away When You Were Here” are a good addition. There’s also a great a cappella harmony at the beginning of “Sky High.”

“The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind,” which was written by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), is so strong my mouth hung open and my arms tingled the first time I listened to it. “Do It Anyway,” the album’s first single, is energetic and utilizes its fast tempo well. I also like it because there are Fraggles in the music video. I’m just being honest. “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” is depressing and hauntingly beautiful, like The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner’s “Magic” and Whatever and Ever Amen’s “Brick.” (Those were recommendations for anyone who hasn’t listened to much of Five’s older work.)

In addition to singing, playing, and writing, Folds also does a great job at containing his inner Beyoncé. Despite being Five’s namesake, Folds makes an effort not to hog the album and succeeds. Making room for Jessee and Sledge shows how committed he is to making it work this time, despite the strong standing he made on his own and the amount of celebrity he’s attracted, and I find that admirable.

It’s not Whatever and Ever Amen. Well, at least not yet.