Ben Folds’ Way to Normal pointed the way back to a few %*@#-ing Five-era successes

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Ben Folds’ first studio recording since 2005’s Songs For Silverman, Way to Normal was the third proper album since he shed the “Five.” In the run up to this album, released in September 2008, he’d notably brought the piano back to the front in rock, and the rich melodies that often come from composing from that instrument.

Same here. The difference is, after dialing down the snark factor on Rockin’ The Suburbs and especially Silverman, Folds seemed to be pulling back from the brink of being a “serious” artist. It doesn’t always make for quality listening (“Bitch Went Nuts” is just plain lame) but it’s often interesting. (Speaking of, it seemed that Ben Folds was getting ever more potty-mouthed, even while Ween was going more in the other direction.)

“The Frown Song” was a catchy new-waver, “Free Coffee” was an electronica that ultimately falls a bit flat, while “Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)” was a delightful send-up of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” though this one was based on an actual stage mishap Ben Folds had in Japan.

There were more sincere attempts at charming popcraft, as with the Regina Spektor-guested “You Don’t Know Me,” or the Joe Jackson-styled driving piano of “Brainwashed.” Meanwhile, “Cologne” showed that Folds could still fashion a ballad with some depth when he wants to, as does “Kylie From Connecticut.”

All of this is to say that Way To Normal was a mixed bag, but that the old Folds attitude was back to some extent – music to the ears, at the time, for any old Ben Folds Five fan.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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