Monday, April 25, 2005

Ben Folds: "Songs for Silverman"

I instantly like Ben's new album... and that's got me worried. The albums I truly love generally take some time to grow on me. I didn't get Ben Folds Five's The Unauthorised Biography of Reinhold Messner for weeks, and Rufus' Want Two seemed to me incredibly hard to listen to when I first got it. These are now two of my favourite albums - they're near-perfect.

So when the first track on Songs For Silverman, 'Bastard', left me slightly deflated, I was optimistic. I obviously had a winner on my hands. But, much to my disappointment, it quickly got much better. In fact, the second track, 'You To Thank' is nothing less than brilliant; it has classically Foldsian lyrics about diving into marriage too early (just a tad auto-biographical then), and a middle-8 to rival any Ben has written before.

From there, the album goes downhill, filled as it it with immediately likable songs. How dare he.

'Gracie' is a beautiful song about Ben's daughter - if she doesn't appreciate it already, she soon will. Half lullabye, half 60s girl group pop perfection, this track has the prettiest melody Ben has written in a long time, and can a father really be any more complimentary than to say "You're not a baby, Gracie, you're my friend" ? True, this is qualified with "You'll be a lady soon, but until then you gotta do what I say", but all in all this is the perfect antidote to the Wainwright family issues flying round right now.

'Landed' and 'Give Judy My Notice' are obvious single tracks - the latter of which first appeared on the Speed Graphic ep and stood out a mile. In its first incarnation it was a simple piano-and-voice ballad - a gorgeous one - but here it has been given the country treatment. That sounds awful, and it almost is, but luckily, 'almost' is the operative word, because this is actually one of the best songs on the album. This improvement to an already excellent song shows how Ben's new band, with Jared Reynolds on bass and Lindsay Jamieson on drums, have a great part to play in his future work. This being said, Ben's own piano work on Songs For Silverman is something that hits you straight away - 'Landed', for example, is a standard song made infinitely better by the intricate piano that runs through it.

The only complaint I have about this album is that the songs are stylistically a little same-y. 'Rockin' the Suburbs' is criticised for being shiny and over-produced, but it has a variety (which may come down to something as prosaic as the use of a wider range of instruments) which is perhaps lacking here.

But then again, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Overall this is a strong, lyric-driven album that has it's fair share of 'future classics', and which, despite my opening gambit, does, I feel, have room to grow on me yet.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Good review. I fell so head-over-heels for the track Underground that I have never quite been able to allow myself the possibility of the rest of his repetoire being that good. I really should though (even if it does involve forgiving Ben for encouraging William Shatner to sing Common People!!!)

AnnaWaits said...

Thank you. Yes, the William Shatner collaboration will go down in history as the day musis went decidedly weird. 'Underground' is a fantastic track, but Ben's in a totally different place now. It makes for a very eclectic back catalogue!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

You can't be Billy Joel forever...

Seriously, I really should listen to Ben as I just know that he is someone worthy of my musical interest.

AnnaWaits said...

Without a doubt. Someone of your taste can't fail to recognise the genius of Ben! There's a lovely trubute song to Elliott Smith on this album too which I forgot to mention.

Topha said...

I admit it. This album didn't grab me first time. A couple of tracks did. Gracie, Late and Landed mostly. I didn't like Bastard first time.
But second hit me like a truck how good this CD actually is