This Ben Folds article was written by Ben Whitfield, a GIGsoup contributor
Ben Folds does it time and time again; releases album after album of catchy, original pop-rock songs with clever, sometimes laugh out loud funny, lyrics that at the same time cut to the heart of the subject matter make you say: “yeah, I know that feeling.“
His new album, ‘So There,’ is no exception. It is all of Ben Folds’ dynamism and verve with the added elegance of an orchestral backing provided by yMusic, crafting a sound that the album cover refers to as ‘Chamber Rock’.
Collaborations are nothing new for Ben Folds. He has worked with numerous artists over the years, everyone from Rufus Wainwright to ‘High Fidelity’ author Nick Hornby, and although all of these works are different and unique, there always remains that signature Ben Folds irony and cynicism. He sings like a sarcastic and sometimes bitter Paul Simon, and what could be better than that?
‘So There’ is a breakup album, so the acrimony is dialled up to eleven. The opening track, ‘Capable of Anything.’ juxtaposes fluttering flutes with its ‘shots fired’ lyrics suggestive of post breakup arguments: “you could be president – or you could just forgive me.“
The title track continues the breakup theme, starting with an old school rock ‘n’ roll piano riff which contrasts beautifully with the melancholic lyrics which outline life post relationship: few belongings in an empty room and the sadness in his voice when he sings “My world got big again…“ evokes a familiar feeling of trying to thrust a positive outlook upon yourself when all you really feel is pain.
‘Phone in a Pool’ and ‘Yes Man’ continue on the topic of reviewing a failed relationship, self-assessment and the assessment of a formerly significant other with ‘Yes Man’s’ chorus sang from the point of view of his partner, lamenting “I don’t need a yes-man and a song.”
There are a few exceptions to the breakup theme of the album, most notably ‘Not a Fan’ – the second track which appears to be poking fun at the hyper-opinionated among us who don’t hesitate to express their judgement of an artist. The song is punctuated by the quietly spoken final words: “So f**k you.”
Oddly, the album is capped off by a three movement ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,’ which initially seems self-indulgent and more like a filler track to turn an EP into an album. And after listening to the three movements they still seem to be out-of-place on this particular album, but there’s no denying their brilliance.
‘Movement 1’ is a thrilling and dramatic piece that twists and turns and tells a story vividly and eclectically. ‘Movement 2’ begins with church bells ringing, then a horn section giving way to simple piano that sounds like day-break, eventually winding through a much calmer and optimistic piece, and finally ‘Movement 3’ starts theatrically and builds through ups and downs and tension building strings in front of constant melodramatic piano parts.
This is another brilliant Ben Folds album in which he does what he does best, using irony and sarcasm to at first hide the emotion behind the songs and then make it hit all the harder when you unravel the humour and nobody does that better than Ben. The ‘Concerto…’ does feel a little out of place, perhaps it belongs on another Ben Folds album, another collaboration for the future perhaps? But there is no denying its brilliance.
‘So There’ is out now via New West Records.