I had my doubts about the big Ben Folds Five reunion album The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind sounding like a “real” Ben Folds Five album, and some advance critics have already said they feel it is more Ben solo with two guys he used to work with, but I think they’re wrong. First, the title track (featuring lyrics from Lonely Avenue partner Nick Hornby) is as naturally energized as I’ve heard Folds be in years, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge providing that wonderfully rambunctious drum and fuzzy bass. Jessee’s “Sky High” is a gorgeous ballad, and “Away When You Were Here” is in my mind some of Folds’ best lyrics in I don’t know how long. It’s not all sedate, as “Do It Anyway” and “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” prove.
There are three real missteps on the album, the first being the first cut on the album “Erase Me,” which is yet another of Folds’ “You broke up with me, so you’re a bitch” tracks that marred his solo efforts regularly. A good song, “Draw A Crowd” has to compensate for the awful chorus of, “Oh, if you’re feeling small and you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall.” The third problem is that there are more ballad/sedate moments on the disc than that solid, energetic pop the band cut their teeth on. Yet having done my complaining, and admitting this is not the equal to Reinhold Messner (or the unbeatable debut album), I’m glad to say this is a disc I am only too happy to listen to regularly.
The question that lingers over it all is whether I subconsciously went into it as a forgiving listener since it is Ben Folds Five, not Ben Folds solo. I can’t answer that honestly because I don’t know, but this album really does feel like a band effort, so I’m cheerfully recommending it.