Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ben Folds - a hero to literally... dozens

A week ago, at this very moment, I was very excited, and I was stood in Brixton Academy waiting for Ben Folds to walk onto the stage. These things were not unrelated. And, amazingly, I was not alone - in fact, within a hundred metre radius I'd say I was in a majority. Unfortunately, a large group of people being excited about, or even, let's face it, aware of Ben Folds is not a very regular occurrence.

And why is this? I don't expect Folds to be filling Wembley, nor would I (or very probably he) want him to, but he has somehow failed to reach a level of recognition, let's say, that his peers - Rufus Wainwright, Antony, Sufjan Stevens - have managed. This has puzzled me for some time, but I think I'm getting my head round it. First and foremost, Ben is not a darling of the critics. Songs for Silverman got 3 out of 5 in pretty much every review I read - "this is Ben Folds' mature album; good songs but nothing special." Even if Ben had been born in Chichester, he wouldn't have won this year's Mercury Prize because, ulitmately, critics don't really care about him. To be fair, it felt like Ben was on the verge of breaking that all-important Radio 2 audience this year with the release of Landed - the video was on TMF of all channels. But it didn't feel right somehow... the fact is, while Landed fit in on Radio 2, Ben is not a Radio 2 kinda guy. He swears like a trooper and comes from North Carolina for goodness sake. And that's what I realised looking round me as I stood waiting for a bespectacled man in his late thirties to bash a perfectly good piano into smithereens. These were not the same people who I'd watched Rufus Wainwright with a week before. These people were English students, not middle-aged doctors and lawyers. And you know why? Cos Ben's a rock star. You wouldn't know it from his outer appearance (Jonathan Ross' description of him as a supply teacher is the best yet) but that's his whole ethos. At how many 'singer-songwriter gigs' would you get a 2000-strong crowd turning the air blue as they sing along with a Dr Dre song turned into a beautiful piano ballad?

In the end, Ben just just can't be placed on the musical map. Anywhere. He's too much of a geek for rock, too rocky for Radio 2 - but if you get it, you get it.


Marie said...

I was a huge Ben Folds Five fan but didn't move on with him to his solo stuff - the last Ben Folds Five album was a dog, and that put me off. Am I missing out?

Lisa Rullsenberg said...


I defy anyone not to listen to "Jesusland", for example, and not grit their teeth at the subtle writing and melody BF can strut. I too was an early BF5 fan and initially didn't follow him over, but his work is spectacularly good.

It is a pity about the lack of recognition, but I love his swearing and his ability to rock out and then glide into sweet and delicate emotional writing. Cracking work that should be better appreciated.

AnnaWaits said...

I love his swearing and his ability to rock out and then glide into sweet and delicate emotional writing.

So true - couldn't (and didn't) put it better myself :)

And Marie, I thought we could be friends... please, just for me, listen to 'Mess' from the last BFF album. It's three and a half minutes of perfection.

Marie said...

OK. I did listen to it. It has wonderful lyrics. Musically it doesn't do much for me (she ducks - missile flies safely over her head - she straightens). I guess I'm a hopeless case.

Deano said...

My fairly lengthy reply:

AnnaWaits said...

Thanks Deano, I'll give you a heads up right after finishing this comment...

Marie, thanks for listening! You're wrong, of course, but thanks ;)


haha ouch.

Anna, you totally know my unadulterated man love for Ben, and I totally agree with you on everything... while you talk about him not wanting to fill Wembley, I can totally agree with you... I like the fact that some people have never heard of him... Its like he's my secret. Ha. Also, people never expect that side of my music taste... sometimes, I get very loud. Anyway, I should stop this... Its not making much sense. I personally prefer magic to mess aswell!