BEN FOLDS FIVE -- Whatever and Ever Amen (550 Music)

Ironic, heartfelt, melodic, energetic and unique. All of these words accurately describe the music of this powerhouse trio (yes, there are only three of them). Whatever and Ever Amen is the second album from the Chapel Hill, NC band, and their 'major label debut.' The tracks were recorded in Folds' living room, and mixed by Andy Wallace (Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley, Nirvana). Besides Bruce Hornsby, there haven't been many new piano-based rock artists these days, but Ben Folds Five is one of the best. Folds handles the lead vocals and attacks his piano with a ferocity reminiscent of a young Elton John. Bassist Robert Sledge evokes sounds of Yes' Chris Squire with his fuzz bass, and Darren Jessee is the man responsible for the manic drumming on the disc.

The CD gets off to a great start with "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," a powerful track that dares you to sit still. "Fair" resembles 10CC at times, although the vaudevillian chorus is kind of hokey. "Brick" is a tender tune that sounds like "Alice Childress," a track from their first album. The vocals on the song bear a strong likeness to something you would hear on a Utopia album. One of the tracks on the CD, "Song for the Dumped," saw its debut last year on the band's summer tour with Neil Young. The song is an angry rocker with some excellent bass runs on the bridge. "Steven's Last Night in Town" is a satirical, almost big-band sounding tune about a guy who doesn't know when to leave.

The first single/video from the album is "Battle of Who Could Care Less." This is one of those catchy tunes that will make you stand up and take notice. Folds' great lyrics and stellar musicianship on the ivories accentuate the fluid bass runs. Since I haven't heard their debut in its entirety, I won't try to comment on how they progressed musically, etc. Suffice it to say that the sense of humor is still alive and well in the group's lyrics, and the attitude had remained intact as well. There's a hidden track after the last song on the CD, but I'm not gonna give it away. You'll just have to hear it for yourself. Whatever and Ever Amen has a few weak spots, but overall, it's an entertaining disc that stands up to repeated listens.

© 1997 Steve Marshall