Review: Ben Folds — Songs for Silverman

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You know how you listen to a new album a couple of times, it’s okay, but it doesn’t really grab you? You utter the words “I just don’t know if I like this artist anymore”, and feel sad at the thought that your favourite artist may have let you down? Then, all of a sudden, as if it took a particular time, space and mindset, upon the fifth or so listen, it hits you. Full force.

This is Songs for Silverman.

I have been a Ben Folds fan since there was a Five — Jason loved them in high school, and I discovered them when we had broken up. We saw Ben Folds Five at the Burswood Theatre together (even when broken up…let’s just say that things worked out in the long run hehe), then Ben on his own at the Regal. We bought his EPs. My particular favourite album was always Reinhold Messner — melancholic, romantic and yet sarcastically clever all at the same time. Many fans, including Jason, didn’t like the album… but I was different.

Then, history occured and the Five were dropped in favour of Ben Folds in his glory. And out came Rockin the Suburbs — a refreshing effort compared to Messner: upbeat, pisstaking — and yet not without its absolute beauties (Still Fighting It, The Luckiest). I have a particular attachment to that album because it was released the same day that Mina was born. Granted, I’d downloaded it from Audiogalaxy 3 weeks earlier, but still… I had a strong sentimental attachment to it because it became the soundtrack for the first three months of my daughter’s life. Anyway…

With RTS, I got to know Ben as a satirical artist: razor-sharp pisstaker and general ironic shitstirrer. His video directed byWeird Al Yankovic, recording an album with Bill Shatner, writing songs about Adelaide. I had also, somewhere along the line, forgotten the mastery behind Reinhold Messner that made me fall in love with Ben Folds.

So, I put in Songs for Silverman. And, initially, I have to admit that I was disappointed. It sounded like a demo. It was the signature Ben piano riffs — in a different key. Almost formulaic in the way that it delivered. No stand out tracks that I can think of. And I was sad about it, because I so wanted to love it on my first listen. But, I hung in there. Listened to it four times through — to work, from work, to work, from work. Didn’t grab me. For the record, Jason loved it.

Maybe it suffered from “Revolutions” syndrome (or the future Episode 3 syndrome!): it was destined to be hated because the real thing could never possibly live up to the expectations. Rockin the Suburbs was such a brilliantly paced and produced album… that nothing to live up to it. I might add that I had similar issues with the EPs.

At least, that’s what I thought. I don’t know whether it’s because I now recognise some of the music that I get to listen to it in more detail (ie production and detailed lyric, the bass lines and strings — the way I like to listen to music — in detail), or the surge of 3-month-pregnancy-hormones-that-make-me-cry-at-commercials… but I turned it on this morning and it hit me how marvellous this album actually is.

“Bastard” has some of the old funny Ben. “Landed” is a wonderfully crafted song about love and confusion. “Gracie” is a beautiful tribute to Ben’s “other twin” (he sang a song about his boy-twin on RTS that also makes me cry). “Jesusland” is a brilliantly cutting comment on the hypocrisy of Bible Belt politics. The reproduced “Give Judy My Notice” has given the song an amazing quality that has you humming along…

The album reminds me of “Reinhold” Ben. And now, I have rediscovered my love for Ben as a musician as well as a comic. So, despite my initial reservations, the album is a “creeper”. Listen to it enough and you won’t be able to stop.

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