Song of the Day #2,329: ‘Away When You Were Here’ – Ben Folds Five

bff_sound_life_mindAs my recent list of top 20 albums of the decade so far was wrapping up, my brother-in-law asked me if I’d forgotten to consider Ben Folds Five’s The Sound of the Life of the Mind.

For a moment, I thought I had. So I went back to my notes to see exactly how things shook out.

Turns out the album was in the 21st spot, bumped out of the countdown when I decided to make a space for Adele’s 21, which I had forgotten when first compiling the list.

Then I remembered why this record, along with others I’ll feature this week, failed to make the cut.

I wanted to avoid picking albums simply for being a batch of new songs by a favorite artist. I deliberately left off records by some of my very favorite musicians for that reason.

Years ago I was on a listserv for Elvis Costello fans. It was a large and diverse group of knowledgeable music lovers. In fact, it was through this listserv that I first learned about Ben Folds Five, along with many other great artists.

In 1998, the group conducted a poll of the year’s best albums. Every member submitted a top ten list, with each title weighted and combined into a master list.

The resulting top ten was a fine list, reflecting the great taste of the group’s members. Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road showed up high, as did albums by Beck, Belle and Sebastian and Lauryn Hill.

But sitting in the #1 spot was Elvis Costello’s collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory. An interesting experiment, to be sure, but the best album of 1998? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

But clearly a group of Elvis Costello fans had each given him a spot on their personal top ten lists, allowing him to amass enough total points to dominate the compiled results. They might have even been afraid to leave him off of their submissions given the audience.

That’s what I had in mind when I opted not to include The Sound of the Life of the Mind on my top 20. I didn’t want it to make the cut because it was a Ben Folds Five record. Folds’ collaboration with Nick Hornby, Lonely Avenue, showed up high on the list because of its unique nature and the strength of its songs.

The Sound of the Life of the Mind, on the other hand, is a pretty damn good Ben Folds Five album, but maybe that’s all it is. For a Ben Folds Five lover, that’s plenty. But I wanted to remove that hat while making the list.

Of course, listening to today’s SOTD, one of my favorites from the record, has me reconsidering the choice.

Dad I know you were sad when you died
And I was young it’s the way I kept you in my mind
The mess that was left and my mother cried
And when she stood up she was nobody’s mother
I’d be fine

But I missed you then
And I miss you now
Liked you’d missed things I might say
You seemed lost in clouds but I’m older now
I can see through lifting haze
That you were away even when you were here

Sometimes a phrase or a manner that’s you
Comes through me, it goes in a flash
It’s a frame, it’s a blink like life
Oh and how much now should we pay for the past
Cause you could age with grace if I freed you in my mind

But I loved you then
And I love you now
All the things I wished I’d asked
When I’m lost in clouds
I remember how I was robbed and I was blessed
And you were away even when you were here

Cause it’s not about you, not you, anymore
It’s about what I’d do with it all
And I, I’ll never let you let me down

This morning I wake to be older than you were
Fresh white snow for miles, every footstep would be mine

You’d have lost that weight, you’d have gone so straight
You’d have made my wedding day
You’d have saved my youth from that bullet of truth
You’d have kept those wolves at bay
But you were away, you were away even when you were here

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4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,329: ‘Away When You Were Here’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I get your rationale, but, from where I sit, your list gives other ranking to other favorites of yours such as Miranda Lambert showing up multiple times solo and with Pistol Annie’s, so it doesn’t seem you de-weighted the picking of a favorite artist for her. Perhaps because Lambert is, relatively speaking, your new love, you wanted to elevate her? Or perhaps, having already evangelized Folds many years ago, you consciously or subconsciously wanted to evangelize Lambert to the likes of someone like me who remains largely uninitiated.

    Regardless, I find BFF’s last album to be among their and Folds’ best work and it would undoubtedly appear on my list if I were ever to compile one.

  2. Clay says:

    I didn’t avoid favorite artists as a rule. I just avoided “pretty good” albums by favorite artists that might fare better simply because I’m already such a fan.

    In other words, the Lambert albums I listed were her Ben Folds Five and Whatever and Ever Amen, not her The Sound of the Life of the Mind. I don’t think I hold TSOTLOTM in as high regard as you do.

    Like I said above, Ben Folds did show up very high on the list with Lonely Avenue, an album that stands out not just for the quality of its songs and production, but because of the unique circumstances of its creation.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    I love this album and I agree with Dana that if I were to make a 21st century list of albums this would definitely appear near the 1st spot. This album is filled with amazing music and interesting lyrics. I love Lonely Avenue too, so it would be hard for me to choose either as my favorite, but for me it’s a toss up. I hold both these albums with very high regard. However, Clay is entitled too his opinion and I would say that if he honestly believes that The Sound of the Life of the Mind isn’t one of his favorites than that is just something we need to accept. 😛

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