December 1998
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Fear Of Pop Volume 1


By Robert Brandt

Picture yourself driving home around 3:00 A.M. after a long night out. You get tired of whatever tapes/CD's you have in the car, and you decide to turn on the radio. You ultimately get tired of listening to Semisonic on your local alt. rock station, and AC/DC is wearing your patience thin with the AOR station.

So, you flip the dial as far left as it will go; down to the college radio stations. You hear collages of sounds that include samples, drum loops, and words that are repeated over and over again for what seems like hours. Yet, you can't bring yourself to turn the dial, because once you get tired of five minutes of one particular idea, then there is a completely new collage being presented to you.

Fear of Pop's Volume 1 now allows you to replay the late night college radio experience at your convenience.

Fear of Pop is for all intents and purposes, the first solo effort by the undisputed king of infectious piano-pop for the 90's, Ben Folds. Enlisting the help of a small band of musicians and longtime producer Caleb Southern, Folds takes us on a journey through his own maze of ideas; some realized, some not, but it is worth the trip just the same.

From the opening title track, you immediately find out that if you bought this album because you thought "Brick" was a neat song, you may be a little turned off.

"Fear of Pop" sounds a bit like a late night jam session involving Bjork and Beck.

Track two, "Kops," brings images of a 70's cop show to mind, sound bytes of police radios and all. While this song owes more to "Shaft" than "Sabotage", it serves its purpose just fine.

"Slow Jam '98" is an accurate title for the next song, which leads into an all too short "Blink", which sounds a bit like a trippier version of the band Tortoise.

What comes next is possibly the most ingenious guest appearance we've seen on any record in a long time. That's right folks, its William Shatner. Reading as only he can on "In Love" from what seems to be a letter to somebody's ex (Ben's ex wife, perhaps?), Mr. Shatner brilliantly overacts while a syrupy, string-driven, Carpenter's-like song plays in the background.

The second half of the album basically is Ben noodling around in the studio with vocal samples, drum and bass loops, and electronic noises. Highlights include what sounds like a send up of "Freebird" at the end of "Rubber Sled" (which begins, by the way, with "Brick" being played at high-speed in the background), and an encore of the idea started on "In Love" with Mr. Shatner returning once again to the mic.

All in all, this album will most likely disappear into the subconscious of many music fans, and perhaps many fans of Ben Folds Five themselves. It is reassuring however, to see an established pop star such as Ben Folds branching out and creating music like this that will possibly ensure him, as an individual artist anyway, into never being typecast or pigeonholed.

So, turn the lights down and give this unique record a try.

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