Tag Archives: Piano rock

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.”

42: Whatever and Ever Amen (Ben Folds Five)

Album: Whatever and Ever Amen
Artist: Ben Folds Five
Year: 1997

1. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces
2. Fair
3. Brick
4. Song for the Dumped
5. Selfless, Cold, and Composed
6. Kate
7. Smoke
8. Cigarette
9. Steven’s Last Night in Town
10. Battle of Who Could Care Less
11. Missing the War
12. Evaporated

Ben Folds doesn’t have the best voice in rock, but gosh darn it he sounds exactly the same live as he does on his albums. And he can freakin’ play the piano. There’s probably not a piano bar player that couldn’t play his songs upon request, though unfortunately, most people aren’t too familiar with his work and that’s a shame.

The band’s second album begins with my favorite “to the people who told me I’d never make it: fuck you” song, and it only heats up from there. Fair might be my favorite song where the chorus has no words and is simply Ben singing “Buh, bah, bah!” repeatedly. Then you get probably his most famous song, Brick, an autobiographical tale about his high-school girlfriend’s abortion.

Song for the Dumped is just pure vitriol and great if you’re in the mood for it, not so much if you’re not. Selfless, Cold, and Composed is a extremely low-tempo, more even-tempered break-up song, and an amazing ballad at that. It initially didn’t do anything for me, but has really grown on me over the years.

Sadly, the album mostly sputters at this point until Steven’s Last Night in Town, which sports the lyric “Won us over with stories, about Linda McCartney; lost points with the ladies, for saying he couldn’t love a woman with cellulite.” I couldn’t care less about the next song, nor much for the next one either, as Missing the War is unbearably slow and Ben’s voice doesn’t sound so hot on the track, either. The album is saved at the end by Evaporated, a painful ballad that hints at a very dark secret that’s never revealed.

Like many of Ben’s albums, Whatever and Ever Amen is uneven, but there’s just too much awesome not to count it among my favorites.