I love Ben Folds something fierce and always will, with or without the Five. I do love him from the Ben Folds Five days, including old school tunes like Emaline. I love him live--I love him live more than life itself. I love random tracks he's put out on random compilations, like Leather Jacket, from No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees (and yes, you probably DIDN'T know this album existed, and yes, it IS an astounding compilation of 90's awesomeness--in fact when I'm looking at the list of artists again it is blowing my mind with awesomeness) and like Golden Slumbers from the I Am Sam soundtrack, the best Beatles cover on that thing--and even all of his tunes from the Over the Hedge soundtrack (Still is an amazingly beautiful song with some of my favorite lyrics, the entirety of which goes like this--
I must give the impression
that I have the answers for everything
You were so disappointed
to see me unravel so easily
It's only change
It's only everything I know
It's only change, and I'm only changing
You want something that's constant
And I only wanted to be me
But watch even the stars above
Things that seem still
are still changing.
Okay, so, apparently, I am a big Ben Folds nerd.
But back to the point here--above all, there is nothing quite like Rockin' the Suburbs, in terms of whole-album-quality, in terms of sentimental value. I love this album from start to finish, from the creak of a door opening and those first piano bars in Annie Waits to the heart-achingly sweet finish of The Luckiest, one of the most eloquent love songs ever written, whose lyrics I could listen to overandoverandover and let his rising and falling piano notes and the swelling strings wrap me up in a warm blanket forever.
There are a few songs in the middle of the album that blend together into the background a bit for me, but there are some real standouts throughout; notably, Still Fighting It and Fred Jones, Part 2. The album in general takes me back to senior year of high school. I listened to Still Fighting It over and over in my discman in cold yellow school buses as we bussed to away football games for marching band and for field hockey games--dark night drives home from numerous depressing old coal towns around the Scranton--Wilkes-Barre corridor--and I listened to it on numerous drives with Lou and Wes, around Hawley and Honesdale and beyond in his huge-ass SUV. But I continued to listen to this album extensively even after leaving Pennsylvania so I don't connect it solely to angsty high school memories, but I can also picture myself walking around Boston with it inside of my ears and my head. And even then, even now, the way he sings this seminal line--everybody knows it sucks to grow up--with the emphasis on sucks is just as satisfying when, years earlier, he yelled at that bitch to give him back his black t-shirt. And Mr. Fred Jones, what a beautiful piece of musical storytelling. In fact, Fred Jones, Part 2 is a key example of why music is so wonderful and particularly powerful when it tells the stories of everyday life and people, not just the trials and tribulations of love. It tells the story of an old man upon retirement, sitting in his office, staring at boxes, no fanfare or goodbye parties, just waiting for the young bastards to take his place. And life barrels on like a runaway train where the passengers change but they don't change anything; you get off, someone else can get on. And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones. It's time. Streetlight shines through the shades, casting lines on the floor, and lines on his face. He reflects on the day. Then he goes home, tries to keep himself occupied, but can't get quite used to it, and can't get over feeling forgotten and old. It's a heartbreaking, yet undramatic story, and one that happens every day, and a story that gets overlooked, diminished. But in a song, you can fill in the emotion that actually belongs there, and return some dignity to Fred Jones, imaginative or real, simply be recognizing his plight. Music gives validity to our emotions.
I was going to say that if anything, the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek, social-commentary slinging, borderline-obnoxious title track is actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album, just because the whole tone of it seems kind of off-kilter with the rest of the album and seems to throw things off a bit. But, then I listened to it again. And yeah, I like this one too. The riff that comes in on the acoustic guitar around two minutes in and continues on a synthesizer later on is a great little pop music piece, and the whole, It gets me real pissed off and it makes me wanna say...fuuuuuuuuuuck! Well. That is just enjoyable. Obviously.
And then! Bam. You are back to here, suddenly engulfed by The Luckiest. Holy crap, Ben Folds. Holy crap.
Next door there's an old man
who lived to his nineties and one day
passed away in his sleep
and his wife
she stayed for a couple of days
and passed away
I'm sorry I know that's a
strange way to tell you
that I know