Ben Folds (Five)

I think it’s safe to say I liked Ben Folds immediately. I mean, who starts a song about getting even with school bullies with “September ’75, I was 47″ high”, anyway (One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces)?  And there’s something about his music, which he described as “punk rock for sissies”, that just hits all the right spots. It’s nostalgic, and of course the comparisons to other rock and roll piano men are inevitable. Out of all those ‘piano men’, though, he’s got the most in common with Joe Jackson.  Take Ben’s ‘Song For The Dumped’ and compare it to Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, for instance. Or, compare “Brick” with “It’s Different For Girls”. He’s also a very restless songwriter, prefering genre experiments to the same old same old.

In my opinion there are 5 Ben Folds albums every household should own. The debut is the rawest of the bunch, and is a great opening gambit, containing the classic “Underground”, that manages to slam early ’90’s hipsters while making Folds one in the process. No small feat, that.

The second album, Whatever and Ever, Amen was the breakthrough, and the album where I entered the picture. It’s weird that a song about abortion would push him and his band into the mainstream (Brick), but it did, and the rest of the album is just as wonderful, if not more so. One Angry Dwarf, Song For The Dumped, Kate and especially The Battle Of Who Could Care Less are some of the best examples of the finest of Fold’s oevre (I knew I could work that word in here somewhere!). The album was a massive success and will always sound absolutely timeless.

The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner (the name on Ben’s fake ID back in high school) is my favorite Ben Folds Five album. It’s also the weirdest, most serious statement he ever recorded. He certainly stepped out of his comfort zone for this one, let me tell you. Narcolepsy sounds like Queen, and there are echoes of Burt Bacharach and Randy Newman all over the place. He even turned an answering machine recorded call from his dad into an abstract ambiance piece. With all of his work there is humor, most evident on Army: “Well I thought about the Army/Dad said ‘Son, you’re fucking high'” Get this album right away.

The Five broke up after this and Folds went solo almost right away, releasing the great Rockin’ The Suburbs. This album contains some of the best songs of his career, like Anie Waits, the title track and the amazing The Ascent Of Stan, one of his top 3 best songs ever, IMO. At only 12 songs there is absolutely no filler, and he has struggled to match the consistency of this record ever since. He came close with his next one, but missed by a smidge.

Songs For Silverman is Rockin’ The Suburbs Part II, in my opinion. And sequels rarely come close to matching the original. There are still some great tracks here: Bastard, You To Thank and Jesusland are all fantastic, classic Ben Folds. And gracie, a song about his daughter, chokes me up every single time I hear it.

I haven’t really heard anything past Songs For Silverman, but I plan on catching up. When I do, I’ll let you know. Until then, pick these five albums up immediately.  Or, if you haven’t the time, patience or money, then dig into this. But at least splurge on the 3-cd version. It’s the least you can do.