Ben Folds Rockin' the Suburbs, 2001
If I'm being really honest with myself, I was disappointed with this album on my first couple of listens. It was a rainy evening and I'd just gotten back from the mall with my purchase. I put it on the 5 Disc CD changer (which would break and be chucked off of a 5 story parking structure before the school year was out) and pressed play. And something just seemed....off.
It's taken 12 years, but I think I've figured out what the disconnect was.
Ben Folds Five was like those older kids that would come back to visit in High School and still be so cool and rebellious even if you had this feeling in the back of your head that they were kind of total losers, in terms of life achievement. It didn't matter. They were scruffy and raw and didn't give a shit. That was the attitude of BFF.
So I was expecting something in that vein when I played Folds's first solo album, but here's the difference. If Ben Folds Five was the angry teenager reflecting on love decaying into hate, or how you can love a baby so much even as you're driving to the abortion clinic, Rockin' the Suburbs sees Ben Folds as Father. The anger has faded, replaced with a mixture of dark humor and bitter resignation. "And you wonder why your father was so resigned. Now you don't wonder anymore," he sings on "The Ascent of Stan" and you realize that for all the love songs to his son ("Still Fighting It") and wife ("The Luckiest") that bookend this album, there's a darkness that colors everything in between.
So it makes sense why this album didn't really connect with me when I was 18. But over the years, I've had time to live with it. And it has had time for me to catch up to a place close to where Ben Folds might have been in his life when he wrote it. And now it seems so wonderful and perfect and spot on. And I never realized it until now. You reach a point when you're considering the existence of your child(ren) where you realize that they represent both the extension and extinguishing of your life. It's light and dark. And this album is the soundtrack.
Ben Folds - The Ascent of Stan
Ben Folds - Still Fighting It