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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005


By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, May 6, 2005

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right now. Ben Folds’ new album, Songs for Silverman, isn’t as good as its predecessor, the thoroughly entertaining and occasionally sublime Rockin’ The Suburbs. The new album is bogged down by a few unabashed filler songs, which is unfortunate, considering how prolific Folds has been these past two years. Between Songs for Silverman and the three EPs Folds released in 2003 and 2004, there were enough excellent tracks for a classic album – all killer, no filler. While Songs for Silverman isn’t the masterpiece it could have been and most definitely has some embarrassingly trite missteps, the truly excellent tracks on the album make it worthwhile.

The first track sounds like vintage Ben Folds Five, complete with fuzz base and pounding piano. The song, aptly titled “Bastard,” is a condemnation of all the know-it-alls in the world and would have fit in nicely on Ben Folds Five’s 1997 breakthrough album, Whatever and Ever, Amen. Folds’ sound is even more pronounced on the bouncy, catchy “Trusted.” Filled with Beatles-esque harmonies and earnest lyrics (“It happens to be/everyone else’s dreams are Freudian clues/you’d better watch what you dream”), it’s one of the most genuine tracks on the album, transcending the quirky nature of Folds’ previous rock ballad fodder.

The first single from Songs for Silverman, the piano-heavy, Elton John/Bernie Taupin-style pop treat “Landed,” is ready-made for radio success. The melody builds to an emotional and plaintive chorus, transitioning to a silky smooth bridge bookended by Folds’ characteristically excellent piano work. It’s definitely the most straightforward song on the album, and is the only logical choice for a single on an album filled with songs that need time to grow on a listener to take full effect.

The most surprising, and ultimately best, song of the album finds Ben Folds doing his best Randy Newman impersonation. The album’s artistic high-point, the beautiful, affecting and sometimes humorous “Jesusland,” finds Folds awash in shimmering harmonies and swelling strings. The song tells the story of Jesus wandering through a “Christian” community, lamenting the “beautiful McMansions on a hill,” all to ebbing and flowing piano arpeggios. It’s some pretty damning criticism of evangelical America, as Folds sings, “They drop your name/but no one knows your face/Billboards quoting things you’d never say/you hang your head and pray/for Jesusland.”

The jazzy closing track “Prison Food” ends the album on this same theme: changing, growing older and the fear of being alone. Folds, now pushing 40, has created one of the more mature albums of his career, despite some regrettable moments (avoid “Gracie,” Folds’ numbingly sappy ode to his daughter, at all costs). It’s an album any longtime fan will enjoy; more so in the album’s stunning DualDisc version, which includes 40 minutes of live footage, as well as the entire album in 5.1 surround sound.

After all, any Ben Folds fan will tell you that the real treasures in any of his albums lie in the intricate melodies that Folds seems able to write effortlessly. Songs for Silverman proves that the older, wiser, more cynical Ben Folds can still be affecting, and best of all, interesting.

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