One Track Mind: Ben Folds Five, "House" (2011)

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Ben Folds, for all his blind-alley turns into jokes that go nowhere, retains a particular eye for the turn of phrase, for the precise word the opens your heart like a flower.

On this, a previously unreleased new recording with the Ben Folds Five, he talks about a house as if its a living presence at first, something that tells its own stories. But even moving away can’t free him of the memories of what happened there. As with the Five’s breakthrough 1997 single “Brick,” Folds is brave enough in his lyrical conviction to avoid spelling out exactly what that might be, and again it only adds to the billowing emotions surrounding the track. Doesn’t have to be something so shattering as, say, sexual abuse. It might be a bad relationship, or the time you almost went broke. Whatever the details, we’ve all had a house like that.

The difference between this tune and “Brick” is in the band’s musical ambitions. “House” begins with a plaintive piano figure that recalls that earlier triumph, but then quickly moves into a more musically complex arc — adding soaring strings, this jagged guitar and a vocal that goes from sweet melancholy to a howling recrimination: “I’m not sorry for what I’m feeling — blow the walls out, and bring the ceiling to the ground.”

If “Brick” ended with a crushing desolation, “House” imagines what would happen if you could push back against your own greatest hurts.

“House,” the Ben Folds Five’s first newly recorded track in 11 years, is included on the new three-disc compilation The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective, due on Oct. 11 from Epic-Columbia Legacy. Also available in a single-disc format, the collection was remastered from original master tapes and includes new liner notes from Folds. The expanded package also features hits, deep catalog fan favorites, hidden treasures, and collectible rarities.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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