May 05, 1997 12:00 PM

Ben Folds Five

Somewhere between Little Richard and Billy Joel, the piano went out of fashion as a lead instrument in rock and roll, but this North Carolina group is doing their best to bring it back. The first major-label CD from the guitar-less trio (not quintet, despite the billing) features Ben Folds on piano, Darren Jessee on drums and Robert Sledge on bass. It’s an elegant slice of pop rock.

The band sounds sort of like Squeeze meets Freddie Mercury—at a George Gershwin tribute. Their melodies are beautiful no matter what the tempo (“Brick” and “Evaporated” are somber ballads that build to soaring finishes; “Kate” is a short, sweet, pure-pop love song) or the title (“One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” a revenge-of-the-nerd anthem, bounces along loudly and happily). The smart sound is a perfect match for the group’s wry, homespun lyrics (“Wish I hadn’t bought you dinner right before you dumped me on your front porch,” from “Song for the Dumped”). But mostly Whatever and Ever Amen is a welcome reminder that the piano means rock as well as Bach. (550 Music)

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