If you peer just past the scary absence of guitars (the six stringed kind anyway), you'll eventually see what's truly risque about the Ben Folds Five. What's troublesome is not so much that they eschew high-end production environments, or that they are highly revered by the Japanese, or even that they continue to brazenly perform, record, and do photo shoots minus two members. Rather, there are elements to this band that are far more distinct and perilous as we anxiously careen towards Tricky's millennium.
What the BF5 continue to dangerously wield in front of their admiring public is a rugged, better-than-unplugged musical vibe that purposely fails to conceal the exposed parts of Ben's particularly human spirit.
Having laid all of this down with their living room aesthetics, the listener is drawn far closer to the blue flame. In the midst of what sound like impassioned rehearsals, Ben has taken some frighteningly acute glimpses into the nature of mortal men. There's the gloating "told-you-so" of "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," the thoroughly pissed dumpee in "Song for the Dumped," and despondent lovers of "Brick."
With useless posturing still rampant in dance music and in-house abstract lyricism cluttering the rest of the rock spectrum, the mention of cold morning car seats, prized black t-shirts has loads more relevance to those rooted (for better or worse) in real life. It stands as an amazingly crisp observation and also as something of a humanist's gamble that Folds would possibly try to connect with what is mundane and unadorned in life.
But despite any high-wire aspects to the libretto, Folds, Darren Jesse (drums), and Robert Sledge (bass) still come off as the same somewhat musically unhinged trio that can rock alongside any of your most celebrated indie Gods. The pop sensibilities of the BF5 still contain emblematic melodies, cool style shifts, and sterling harmonies. Strings have been tossed in here and there and Folds' piano still sounds as if it's being treated more like his significant other (occasionally abused, occasionally stroked) than a means for his virtuosity.
Moving to a major may not immediately draw radio's attention away from any of the pseudo-punks in electronica garb out there (yes Firestarter, I'm talking to you), but the smart money will probably ride on true melody hawkers like Ben Folds every time.