Ben Folds – Speed Graphic (2003)

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by Tom Johnson

Ben Folds opened this EP (Speed Graphic refers to the camera seen on the sleeve) with the Cure’s “In Between Days.” While staying true to the Cure’s sound, he managed to inject an extra little dose of his hopeful optimism into the song: It’s just a quality of his soft, youthful voice that he always sounds optimistic, even in the most dismal of surroundings.

And dismal was what followed “In Between Days,” in the form of “Give Judy My Notice,” a melancholy solo piano ballad in the same vein of “Fred Jones, Pt. 2” from Rockin’ The Suburbs — and perhaps aimed at adding to the collection of woman-named songs in his canon.

“Protection” wisely followed with a bright, solid-chorded entrance that clearly displayed Folds’ love of Joe Jackson, which would figure prominently throughout the song in a way that I can’t help but think of “Steppin’ Out.” “Dog” kept things light, fulfilling the need for every Folds release to have something “whimsical” in nature as he detailed the life of his dog in the yard.

In some spots, you can hear Folds straining to not break into Vince Guaraldi-inspired Peanuts themes. I can imagine exactly this happening in concert …

The mood was taken down several notches again by closing track “Wandering.” There’s nothing noticeably wrong with the song. It’s well-played with his usual heartfelt conviction, but it just seems that this song-form is so easy for Ben Folds that maybe he should stretch out and attempt to make dramatic, non-balladic music.

On a full album (like 2006’s Supersunnyspeedgraphic, taken from this project as well as Folds’ subsequent Super D and Sunny 16 EPs), “Give Judy” and “Wandering” wouldn’t have appeared as morose as they did here. But when there’s only 5 selections on the release — and two of them are down-tempo — the general atmosphere of the set is pretty dark. It was just a little bit of a let down that the result of Folds’ first private release wasn’t as intense, personal, mature and yet somehow fun as previous projects had been.

“Intense” and “personal,” yes but fun? Not so much, unfortunately.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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