Thursday, April 21, 2005

Review: "Songs for Silverman," Ben Folds (UPDATED)

Ben Folds has been a favorite of mine for a few years, thanks in large part to an old friend. I admire his ability to turn the "piano-man" genre on its head with his irreverence and wit. Even in the most serious of songs was that thread of humor and irony. Whether alone or with the "Five," Ben Folds is capable of genius.

His first solo album, "Rockin the Suburbs," was yet another step in the rich tradition of clever songwriting and catchy melody that the musician had developed. Every song has its own charm, its own special quality. Every track is a fantastic song.

His live album, "Ben Folds Live," was a mix of his solo work and solo variations of his group catalogue. It's a fantastic album that I would recommend to anyone who even remotely enjoys his work.

So when the news of his newest album, "Songs for Silverman," came out, I was elated. More Ben Folds!

I found out this morning (thanks Relevant) that is streaming his new album for free. You can check it out here.

I've listened to it three times so far. I stopped for lunch, and am currently listening to his previous opus (which I just happened to bring with me today).

So what is my opinion of "Songs for Silverman."

In short: hmm. yeah. it's ben folds. so that's cool, i guess.

"Suburbs" had an energy, even in its melancholy moments, that "Silverman" just can't quite reach. I don't know what it is. Ben just sounds...tired. Jaded. A little bored.

Ben's still as incredibly talented as he always has been. Each song is still well-crafted, and his vocal work is still top-notch. Ben's an incredible musician, and if he would ever work his way down here to the Southland, I'd go to his show in a heartbeat.

I don't know. The whole tone of the album is just...kinda down. He wears his cynicism on his sleeve in songs like "Bastard" and "Jesusland", and there's just no humor in it. Not to say that all songs must be funny ("Brick" certainly wasn't) or clever, but Ben Folds' songs are usually a little more balanced.

Granted, I'm probably letting my personal biases color my reactions to these particular songs. But it seems like he's turning into just another anti-evangelical/conservative musician. His critiques are completely valid, yes; but I've heard all this before. I'm kinda bored with it.

As for the rest of the album: like I said, it's all incredibly well-done. Ben is a truly gifted and incredible pianist, vocalist, and songwriter. It just doesn't seem quite as inspired as "Suburbs" was. Ben seems to be going through the motions.

"Landed", the first single from the album, is certainly a stand-out track. "Gracie," an ode to his baby daughter, is just as beautiful and touching as "Still Fighting It," Ben's song to his son. "Trusted" is another great track, with the lines "It seems if you can't trust/You can't be trusted." "Late" is a great tribute to the late Elliot Smith. "Sentimental Guy" is another melancholy "aftermath" track in the lyrical vein of "Smoke" and "Evaporated," yet it has a deceptively jaunty melody.

I'm conflicted, as you can tell. The individual elements of the album are great overall; but the album as a whole just left a bit to be desired. "Suburbs" was a great album; "Silverman" has several great songs. The difference, however subtle, is still noticeable.

I don't know. I'm listening to it online. Maybe in the car, on a roadtrip, I could find more to appreciate here. This is most likely the case. And I'm sure I'll end up buying this album, so I'll have the chance to do so.

I'm willing to concede that my personal biases with some of the themes early on in the album may affect my perception of it as a whole. But that's the way it goes. You want another kind of review? Find another reviewer.

Final Judgement: 7.5 out of 10. Not "Suburbs" but solid. Another album from a superb songwriter.


I'm listening to it again. I sold it a bit short. The energy, though not blatant, is there inside. If nothing else, the piano solo on "You to Thank" gives it an extra point. So there you go. 8.5 out of ten. Not half-bad, my young son.

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