Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary: Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs”

Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001

Jan 13, 2017 Ben Folds Bookmark and Share

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Under the Radar’s very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums (and movies and TV shows) from 2001.

When Ben Folds Five broke up after 1999’s third and final album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, it was unclear which path Ben Folds would choose. A solo career was imminent, but he’d also done more experimental work on his Fear of Pop side project from 1998, which later manifested itself when he produced William Shatner’s wonderful Has Been in 2004. Experimentation was not the name of the game on his debut solo album, 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs, however, as this is just Folds doing what he’d always done best and his fourth consecutive great album. As such, piano-led rock and roll influenced greatly by predecessors such as Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, and Elton John is what’s on offer here, but what differentiated Folds from his predecessors (Jackson excepted, up to a point) is a silver tongue with a modern edge, his lyrical wit at times encompassing various four-letter words, and other indicators that he started in the ‘90s, not in the ‘60s or ‘70s. As such, both as part of Ben Folds Five and as a solo artist, he has always felt like a modern update on his influences, not a tribute act or anything remotely like it.

Rockin’ the Suburbs came out on the tragic date of 9/11, but doesn’t presciently concern itself with politics or world events of any sorts. If anything, parts feel deeply personal. “Still Fighting It” is addressed to his son Louis and album closer “The Luckiest” is addressed to his then wife, Frally Hynes. “Not the Same” relates the story of someone who attended his former drummer Darren Jessee’s party and became a born-again Christian after taking LSD and sleeping in a tree overnight. Other off-beat subject matter includes references to the birth of acid house in “Zak and Sara” and “The Ascent of Stan,” a story of a former hippie turned corporate mogul that’s less attack than a movingly empathetic character study. The title track is a comic parody of then popular nu-metal that shows that Folds hadn’t lost his sense of humor, either.

All in all, it showed that Folds had the goods to establish a lengthy solo career (which continues today) and didn’t need his backing band to make great music.



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