Of course, the geek thing doesn’t really matter any more, not when Folds has finally cracked America – with ‘Brick’, one of those choking suckerpunches the [a]Five[/a] pull off with seemingly as much ease as their more smartass numbers – or can pack out this echoey provincial cavern on a Monday night with fans who would never believe Folds was anything less than cucumber cool at school.
But in a pop landscape being reshaped by the mutant Spectorisms of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev‘s rejuvenation of Americana, you’d think Ben Folds Five‘s pared-down cocktail of Steely Dan clever-pop and a fully-working vocabulary of AOR shadings would ‘fit in’ a little better, would be wider appreciated than they are.
But then, famously, the [a]Five[/a] are a band whose cred is routinely riven apart by the contradictions in their music and their fandom. They’re the band who, on one hand, fashioned ‘Underground’ – a punchy classic slice of professorial pop with a heart of molten boogie – but on the other can make something as dumb, vile and ultimately rousing as ‘Song For The Dumped’ ([I]”Give me my money back, you bitch”[/I]), and then segue into the more disquieting, fractured selections from their troubling current LP, ‘The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner’, batting nary an eyelid.
It is here that they shine brightest, on the breathtaking ‘Narcolepsy’, all bloated, beautiful explosions and hushed tenderness; on the classy ‘Jane’, laid-back and airless like a flooring, humid heatwave; on ‘Mess’, portentously half-formed and mordant of melody, like a refugee from Big Star‘s ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ LP; and on ‘Magic’, which leaves the room winded by its fragile, bleak beauty.
So, Ben Folds Five; they still don’t quite fit in. But long may they gloriously confound.