Starting a band with a squad of hometown pals, getting famous, growing drug habits and perpetually ego-tripping is so ’90s. These days, bands are all about forming with a group of seasoned, cranky, egotistical druggies and going from there. Yes, this is the age of the “super group.”
These rock star-mashing collectives — including A Perfect Circle (Maynard of Tool, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, Jeordie White of Marilyn Manson), Velvet Revolver (original Guns ‘n’ Roses lineup minus Axl, plus ex-Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland) and The F—ing Virgins (singer/ songwriters Ryan Adams and Evan Dando, along with James Iha, again, and Melissa Auf Der Mar of Smashing Pumpkins) — usually amount to nothing more than hills of expectations followed by mountains of personality clashing, all capped with some really crap music.
But that image is slowly changing thanks to a group of timid balladeers and some well-played showcase of “sharing is caring” mentality.
The band is called The Bens because it’s made up of only, you guessed it, musicians named Ben.
Ben Kweller, the child music prodigy who hasn’t yet put it all together, Ben Folds and Ben Lee, neither of which have put anything good out in five years, came together during some downtime between each Ben’s Australian tours.
They decided to lay down some tracks together, you know, just for kicks. What resulted is a four-song EP marking the best work for each Ben this century. Whoever thought downtime could sound so good?
The self-titled EP is book-ended by a stellar study in vocalization and almost a career-best Ben Folds number that make this experimental outing a success.
“Just Pretend” is an acoustic/ piano accompaniment that introduces each Ben belting out a verse, double-tracked with collaborative backing harmonies that lead into a pretty crescendo of chorus.
The closer, “Bruised,” is Folds bearing the vocal burden and tickling the ivories, while Kweller hits the skins and Lee strums on his axe.
It’s not only the best song on the album, but also a classic piano ballad that would make even Billy Joel shed a tear.
Ben Folds turns simple, indignant lyrics into a song that slowly sheds its lovelorn plea for a skin infused with perfect harmonies, driving musical emotion and a wonderful climax of instrumental and vocal bliss.
The middle tracks, “Xfire” and “Stop!” show off The Bens penchant for turning studio recording into an exciting pop playground. The two tunes find the boys dabbling in new wave and speed-pop, respectively.
At the risk of turning this review into a press release, when The Bens pound that last key, strum that last chord and ba their last ba-ba-bababa, it’ll leave you wishing for just one more song, one more note or even a da-da-dadada.
If this trio and their money-grubbing record companies can get the go-ahead for an entire album, it could mean unparalleled musical success for each of The Bens, finally chalking one up for the “super group.”
More importantly, all of you kids spinning your dad’s Elton John and Billy Joel records will have you own Piano Men to hang your coat on.