Ben Folds Five Returns: An Essential Playlist

The eight-year run of '90s indie act the Ben Folds Five was fruitful in many ways. We got the most catchy song about a Christmas abortion ever in 1997's "Brick", three excellent studio albums full of snarky, romantically-challenged piano-based indie-rock, and we were introduced to one of the best songwriters of the past two decades in lead singer Ben Folds.

(So let's tally it up. So far in 2012 we will see reunions from At The Drive-In, Refused, Stone Roses, The Promise Ring, Black Sabbath, and maybe -- just maybe -- another turn from Jawbreaker. Oh, and maybe the Spice Girls.)

A Folds solo career would come after the BF5 splintered in 2000, with singles like "Rockin' The Suburbs" and "You Don't Know Me" (with help from Regina Spektor), plus a handful of albums full of grand, quirky power-pop. Folds acid tongue just grew sharper in the '00s, as the musician aged into a loveable curmudgeon. A sort of slack-ass Randy Newman for Generation Y.

Last week, the BF5 finally made their reunion plans public and Folds posted a picture to Twitter of himself, bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee in full-tilt boogie in a studio, cooking up a spring album.

All told, BF5's three studio efforts -- a self-titled 1995 album, 1997's sorta-smash Whatever And Ever Amen, and 1999's weighty and underrated The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner -- were charming, semi-flawless affairs full of Folds' emotional, bombastic lyrical beat-downs of former flames, jocks, and parental units.

The group reunited for a one-off charity event in 2008, and last year they recorded three songs for Folds' own career retrospective, The Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective, which hit stores last fall, telegraphing this reunion. Folds himself was here in Houston back in May 2010 for a House Of Blues gig.

Over the years since the band's breakup in 2000, the legend of the BF5 only grew and grew, as Folds reeled in new fans through his more commercial solo work, which wasn't nearly as coarse as BF5.

The second single off Whatever, "Brick", was a fluke hit on MTV and radio, though Folds was uncomfortable with such a personal song getting so much airplay. Folds thought it weird to be put into a live set, considering the song's somber tone compared to songs about being dumped and getting stoned.

The rest of the album remains solid to this day. "One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces", "Song For The Dumped", and "Battle of Who Could Care Less" were great pop chestnuts, fitting snugly into the time after grunge and before nu-metal.

Oh, you need to know more about the Ben Folds Five? Of course I made a mix-tape for you to browse. Of particular note is "Best Imitation Of Myself" from their 1995 debut, for it's perfect encapsulation of everything I loved, and currently love, about the BF5.

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