"Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara," "Fred Jones Part 2," "The Ascent of Stan," "Losing Lisa," and "Carrying Cathy" are all titles and characters populating Folds's Suburbs. These are studies of individuals not unlike Folds himself -- a bit lost, but OK as far as the big things in life go. They're scared of growing up, stuck in nowhere jobs, and living day to day, hoping for a break. The songs are detailed, pretty, and droll ("Sara, spelled without an H, was getting bored," he says of one of the denizens). But the melancholia eventually gives way to sappiness, the erstwhile smartass dulled by maturity. At least the songs themselves, buried beneath Folds's grand piano gestures and even grander hooks, bounce along with some joy, unlike the Five's final outing, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. Suburbs returns to the spiritedness that made the Five's 1995 self-titled debut and its follow-up, 1997's Whatever and Ever Amen, such easy listening (even if this album's big ballad, "Carrying Cathy," details a suicide). Too bad Rockin' the Suburbs gets a little too close to Easy Listening.
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