1: Rockin’ the Suburbs (Ben Folds)

Album: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Artist: Ben Folds
Year: 2001

1. Annie Waits
2. Zak and Sara
3. Still Fighting It
4. Gone
5. Fred Jones, Part 2
6. The Ascent of Stan
7. Losing Lisa
8. Carrying Cathy
9. Not the Same
10. Rockin’ the Suburbs
11. Fired
12. The Luckiest

So here we are. When I first created my list, I had this album at #8.  But the more I listened to the albums in the top ten, the more I realized that this is the only album in my collection that I am never not in the mood for. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s the stripped down sound, with few instruments other than Ben’s piano (or Ben’s guitar, or Ben’s drums). Perhaps it’s because each song is enunciated so well that it makes it easy to sing along to. Or maybe, more than any other album I’ve heard, the songs are about real people in real situations. Just look at those titles. We have songs about Annie, Zak, Sara, Fred Jones, Stan, Lisa, and Cathy. Not the Same is about Robert Sledge. Fired is about Lucretia. I love stories, and these songs tell stories.

More than on any other album he’s released, Ben proves here he’s one of the best songwriters ever. Annie Waits is about a girl struggling through loneliness and bad dates and it has a sweet and sad twist at the end.  Zak and Sara is more about the delicious rhymes. To wit:

Sara spelled without an aitch was getting bored
On a Peavey amp in 1984
While Zak without a cee tried out some new guitars
Playing Sara-with-no-aitch’s favorite song

Still Fighting It is about depression and hope, taking place at an Arby’s.  Gone is the album’s weakest song, a fairly generic story about a guy holding onto a girl who broke up with him a while ago.

Then we get perfection.  Fred Jones is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard that isn’t about death or suicide. If you’ve never heard it, stop what you’re doing and listen to it now.

Ascent of Stan is a fun song about a hippie who forgot his values.  Losing Lisa is a generic break-up song but has some a pretty fun rhythm.  Things pick back up with Carrying Cathy, an exceptionally written song about a relationship with a girl who is so emotionally exhausting to be around that the guy misses the warning signs for suicide. One line in particular speaks to me:

There were times when I’d find myself saying that:
“Friends, you don’t understand”
And “She’s different when it’s just me and her.”

Not the Same is a true story about a guy who got high at a band mate’s party, climbed into a tree, stayed there overnight, and came down a Born Again Christian. I didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on me over the years. Rockin’ the Suburbs is the only song on the album that relies heavily on instruments, a jammer that heavily satirizes the music industry. Then we have Fired, about someone at the end of their rope fantasizing about being the boss and firing every last fucker in the office (or in their life, possibly).

The album wraps up with one of Ben’s most revered songs, The Luckiest. It’s the only pure ballad on the album. It’s obviously personal, and very sweet, but it doesn’t hit me as well because we don’t know anything about the woman the song’s about.  Still, it’s better than most ballads on pop radio and a worthy end to an amazing album.

Thanks for sticking with me through the countdown. Talking about music is tough. There’s only so many ways I know how to analyze a song and, unlike say video games, my reasons for enjoying something are less about objective quality and more about emotional resonance.

On Sunday I’ll preview the first of a few short-and-sweet countdowns (i.e., the next one will last two weeks). But before then, I’d like your thoughts on the current one. My hope with this countdown, other than getting to enjoy my collection a bit more, was that you all would find something you liked that you’d never given a listen to. Did you find a hidden gem these past few months? Or was it more like, “Seriously? Fuck country.”

5 thoughts on “1: Rockin’ the Suburbs (Ben Folds)”

  1. Thanks for doing this Beau. To be quite honest, I’ve probably listened to or want to listen to about 20 percent of the albums you listed. Different tastes. I did appreciate you going through the effort and I read each review, even the DMB.

    What came out of it for me is that I should listen to more CCR than just my greatest hits collection, and maybe give Rilo Kiley more than just the passing interest I’ve given her thus far. (I really like that Jenny Lewis album).

    Anyway, even though you didn’t convince me to check out Garth Brooks or Rusted Root, I enjoyed reading about these albums.

    1. Yeah, if you like Rabbit Fur Coat, there’s a good chance you’ll like some of what RK has to offer.

      One thing I noticed after doing this countdown is that most of my albums fall into one of three categories

      1. 90’s country
      2. Piano rock
      3. Jam bands

      Thing is, my music collection is very broad. But it seems like I’m more likely to enjoy the entire album, rather than a hit or two, from these genres.

  2. Wow, I never would have thought Ben Folds would have been the top of your list when you started this. Cool. I think I burned you this CD and a couple others by him. Did I turn you onto him? Definitely another solid album as I can listen to this whole thing without skipping a track.

    I was worried when Ben Folds Five split or whatever (and ever), although Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner was underwhelming at the time. The first track I heard was Rockin the Suburbs when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel live. Then I was really worried. Ben, you’ve gone to playing keyboard guitar?! What? You’ve abandoned the piano? Crap, is everything going to be like this now?

    Thankfully, that was the exception on the album. Plus it didn’t take me long to start digging it this song. Sweet music video too.

    Fred Jones Pt 2 is great and indeed very sad.

    I love the ways he relates love in a couple verses of Luckiest. What if I was born earlier and we didn’t meet, and then sharing he foresees feeling just like the old couple, ready to leave this life so quickly after your lifetime love has passed (I know that’s a strange way to tell you that I love you). I like the song so much that I learned how to play this one on the piano and played it for my wife on our first wedding anniversary.

    I think you did a good job on the list of reviewing the album and writing objectively on a very subjective topic. The subject didn’t lend itself to as much audience participation for the same reason, but I’ll definitely check out some of the albums mentioned. I already started listening to some Rilo Kiley.

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