On the evidence of Rockin' the Suburbs, Ben Folds's decision to jettison the two-piece Five that had backed him on four largely excellent albums has not resulted in any significant shift in trajectory. The Ben Folds Five were only getting better, gradually discovering the confidence not to hide their musical uniqueness (there have been too few piano-led power trios) and lyrical intelligence behind undergrad Barenaked Ladies-style gags. Songs like "Mess" and "Brick" signaled an extraordinary new songwriting talent worthy of comparison to Folds's obvious idols, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon. Only this album's title track harkens back to Folds's fondness for comedy, and it is by far the weakest track here. The rest is mournful, reflective, and, at best, quite magnificent. Folds's hymns to his family, "Still Fighting It" and "The Luckiest" are shot through with an honesty that's rare in alternative rock. The acerbic essence of character sketches such as "Carrying Cathy," "Losing Lisa," and "Zak & Sara" are leavened with a generous compassion. Folds's second solo effort is his best album yet. The remainder of his career must be anticipated with equal parts expectation and impatience. --Andrew Mueller
PITCHFORK GIVES "ROCKIN' THE SUBURBS" A 6.8.
Ben Folds - "Rockin' the Suburbs" (Album)