Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why Folds Still Gets Five Stars

Entry # 2

If you are a Ben Folds fan then you know what I am talking about when I say that the man can do no wrong. On his latest release Songs for Silverman, Ben once again proves that success as an artist cannot be measured merely according to the parameters and terms of a critical or commercial agenda. Silverman is yet another example of why he doesn’t nor will he ever need those things to be a successful artist. Rather, his success stems from the ability he has to write melody after beautiful melody and present them within a familiar Folds package of the piano/bass/drum combination. Silverman, however, adds something to his repertoire that I don’t think was there before: true sophistication.

I have been a fan of Folds since shortly after the release of Ben Folds Five’s eponymous first release. The first song I heard off the album was “Underground” and it had all the right elements: It rocked (!), there were great vocals/harmonies, it was different (no guitar), and it had just the right element of humor in it (“Officer Friendly’s little boy’s got a mohawk, and he knows just where we’re coming from”). I got the album and found that it was loaded with the other element that is so crucial to my connecting with a band. It was my central argument in the Weezer entry and that is that the overwhelming sense and range of emotional ideas and feelings presented by Folds, Jesse, and Sledge. Song’s like “Philosophy,” “Best Imitation of Myself” and “The Last Polka” are still enough, I think, to make all the Emo-geeks pine, wishing that they had the ability to write songs that good.

The thing that makes Ben Folds so awesome, though (sadly, as apposed to Rivers Cuomo) is that he has continued to deliver. Most of you will at least have the band’s second album Whatever and Ever Amen for which the band received the most critical attention for their single “Brick.” Brick aside (and you almost always have to put singles aside, don’t you?) the album is full of more tunes that move and amaze. Part of the reason for this, and I forgot to mention this above, is that part of the Folds formula is that he almost always tells some sort of story in his songs. The most notable examples of this on Whatever are the songs “Missing the War” (probably my all time favorite BFF song), “Fair” and “Selfless, Cold and Composed” (My second favorite). I saw the trio for the first time while touring for this album at the Pima County fair just outside Tucson, and this sealed the deal. They were just as good: harmonies just as tight, charming, funny in person as they ever were on the album.

The band’s final release The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, made it hard to say goodbye. I mean, have you heard that horn section on “Army”? “Magic” (penned by Jesse), and “Lullaby” just added to the wealth and emotion of the first two releases.

When Ben Folds (finally) released his first solo album (Rockin’ the Suburbs) on 9/11/2001, I remember coping with what had happened that morning by going out and buying that album. Back was the Fold’s classic humor, (see the title song) the story format (“Zak and Sara,” & “Not the Same”) and the—sometimes very personal,—emotional tunes (“Fred Jones, Pt.2,” & “Still Fighting It”). If you had a chance to see Folds on the first part of that tour, you saw how diverse he could be, playing with 4 other musicians, and if you saw him on the latter part of that tour you saw this versatility raised to an exponential level as you helped Ben by singing those horns on “Army” because he was all alone on stage.

Just incase you missed them, leading up to the release of Silverman, Ben released three self produced EPs: Speed Graphic, Super D, and Sunny 16. All of which contain excellent, full-album worthy material. My favorites are the cover of The Cure’s “In between Days,” the solo version of “Give Judy My Notice” and the song about Ben’s now residence, “Adelaide.” My favorites tend to be fairly pointless in a blog like this, they are another one of those things that are like butts. Everybody’s… well you know.

Anyway, all of this has led me to the latest release from Ben Songs for Silverman. It was released at the very beginning of the summer, before the new Weezer, Beck, Coldplay, Corgan, before all of them, and better. As I stated at the beginning of this little blog turned essay is that Ben has moved from humor here to something even better: sophistication. The old format is there, even more so than on Suburbs, just listen to the sweet “Trusted.” What we have here, though, is almost a “growing up and stretching out” for Ben. He seems to be under less pressure to be comical (maybe he got that out of his system on the B-side from “Landed”). Weird Al’s cameo on the album is just back-up singer (“Time”). You get the sense that you are listening to a jam on “Prison Food,” and if you watch the making-of dvd that comes with certain versions of the album, you see that that is precisely what it started as. I can hardly believe that I am being gypped out of a stop on the “Odd Man Out” tour with Rufus Wainwright. For those of you who are fans and also have to miss, see if you can’t find Ben and Rufus doing Wham’s “Careless Whisper”—classic!

So in a nut shell, I am a big Ben fan. You should be too. If you haven’t bought an album since Whatever, get caught up! If you heard the new album and were like my friend (“I just couldn’t get into it, man”) give it another listen. For me, Folds is goodness.

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