Song of the Day #1,566: ‘Do It Anyway’ – Ben Folds Five

Yesterday I wrote about the nostalgia for 90’s acts that contributed to a new release by The Wallflowers. No doubt many people will look at the reunion of Ben Folds Five in the same light.

The band put out three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 then broke up unexpectedly. Their output generated one medium-sized hit (‘Brick’) and a small but devoted legion of fans like myself who couldn’t believe something so great ended so quickly.

Many Ben Folds Five fans believe that not only do those three albums represent the best work Ben Folds has ever done, but in fact everything he’s done since is basically crap. I believe those people are idiots.

Folds released four studio albums (and several EPs) between 2001 and 2010, and every one of them is packed with his trademark wit, sensitivity, melodic genius and insane piano virtuosity. Even the worst of them — 2008’s Way To Normal — has its share of wonderful moments. I’ll never understand why so many “fans” turned on him after the demise of the Five.

At any rate, Folds has reunited with bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse for the first Ben Folds Five album since 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. And that’s an exciting development because, even though I am a huge fan of everything Folds has ever done, I agree that his very best work remains those first two Ben Folds Five albums.

The interplay of Jesse’s drums, Sledge’s bass and Folds’ piano (not to mention their vocals) is an alchemy Folds has never quite been able to match with other players.

The first seconds of ‘Erase Me,’ the first song on The Sound of the Life of the Mind, are filled with a burst of Sledge’s trademark fuzz bass, paired with pounding piano and drum parts. It’s a splendid reintroduction to the “punk rock for sissies” sound these three men patented in their heyday.

While Folds’ songwriting and remarkable piano playing are the obvious draw, I’ve always felt Sledge’s bass playing was Ben Folds Five’s secret weapon. In a band that never used a lead guitar, Sledge assumed responsibility for both the rhythm section and a plethora of intricately melodic bass lines. It’s a treat to hear him at work again.

Four of the ten songs on The Sound of the Life of the Mind give the boys a chance to really cut loose, but the majority of the record is made up of mid-tempo numbers. It’s ironic that Folds penned some of his strongest ballads for an album that found him reunited with a band known for rocking out.

But the Five has always been just as strong on the subtle tracks as the barn burners, and that’s certainly the case here.

Honestly, this collection of songs could just as easily have been Folds’ next solo album — there is nothing in the songwriting that shouts out “Ben Folds Five.” It’s all about hearing Sledge’s bass lines, Jesse’s jazz-rock drum work and both men’s slightly off-key backing vocals. And it’s the thought of these three guys back in a studio together for the first time since they blew my mind wide open 15 years ago.

You might put your love and trust on the line
It’s risky, people love to tear that down
Let ’em try
Do it anyway
Risk it anyway

And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head
It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead
Go on and
Do it anyway
Do it anyway

There will be times you might leap before you look
There’ll be times you’ll like the cover and that’s precisely why you’ll love the book
Do it anyway
Do it anyway

Tell me what I said I’d never do
Tell me what I said I’d never say
Read me off a list of the things I used to not like but now I think are ok

Sometimes it’s not subjective: wrong and right
Deep down you know it’s downright wrong but you’re invincible tonight
So you
Do it anyway
It’s done
You did it

Despite your grand attempts the chips are set to fall
And all the stories you might weave cannot negotiate them all
Do it anyway
Be honest, anyway
So tell me what I said I’d never do
Tell me what I said I’d never say
Read me off a list of the things I used to not like but now I think are OK
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
Whoa whoa whoa whoa

It’s gonna be so very hard to say
And watch the trust and joy all drain from her innocent face
But you must
Do it anyway
It sucks but
Do it anyway

Call it surrender but you know that that’s a joke
And the punchline is you were never actually in control
But still, surrender anyway

Tell me what you said you’d never do
Tell me what you said you’d never say
Read me off that list of things ’cause I used to not like you
But now I think you’re OK
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
Whoa whoa whoa whoa

Everybody knows that you just gotta do it anyway

Do it anyway
Do it anyway

‘Cause you don’t do nothing to avoid self punishment
You won’t do nothing
You won’t feel nothing
Do it, do it, do it anyway
Do it anyway

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,566: ‘Do It Anyway’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    I agree with nearly every word of your review. I am loving this album. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that folds’ best work lies in the band’s first two albums. In fact, I think Folds’ last album collaborating with Nick Hornsby is as strong as anything he has ever done. Now, I get the magic of those first two records, which of course coincided with our entry point to Folds, but I think his songwriting and musicianship has evolved steadily (though I agree some tracks on way to normal were a step back at least lyrically)

    In any event, it is great to hear the band play again and to recapture some of that old magic. But, apparently unlike some of the fans you mentioned, I will happily continue to follow folds whether with the band or solo.

  2. Amy says:

    I’ve only heard this album once entirely through (as Dana has hoarded it, and Red is in constant rotation in our car), but I like what I’ve heard so far (though some of the lyrics cause the kids to want to the convertible top to be up or the volume to be way down… 🙂

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