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Always a sure bet with Folds

Julie Bender | Thursday, February 5, 2004

When something is good, why change it? That seems to be the philosophy of the piano pop prince of the decade, Ben Folds. Throughout his time with his previous band, Ben Folds Five, Folds produced a savvy collection of quirky pop ballads that earned him a devoted fan base and placed his name on the charts as a quiet yet influential force in popular music. Two years ago, Folds called it quits with his band mates and headed out on his own with just his piano in tow. His album to follow, Rockin’ the Suburbs, allowed Folds to further explore his narrating lyrical style and his punchy piano rhythms, but stayed true to his distinctive sound. His live album, released in 2002, featured more of Folds in his own unique genre. The album showcased an array of songs from Folds repertoire, combining old favorites from the Five with his independent releases as a solo man. Keeping with his tried and true method of piano balladeering, Folds has added two new EPs to his line of album releases. The EPs, Speed Graphic and Sunny 16, contain more of the distinct pumping beats and witty lyrics that have dotted Folds’ musical past. The results are quality songs that contain nothing new or daring, but still are of a high musical standard. Speaking on his website about his decision to release his latest music via the Internet and on five-song EPs, Folds says, “Part of me thinks I’m an idiot for ‘wasting’ this recording on limited release [EP’s], but I’m really into this method of recording and releasing quickly and making it all about music.” Folds is certainly good about “making it all about the music.” Although the EPs do not prove to be his best work in recent years, the songs are still quite good and will be a hit with fans.Speed Graphic opens with a cover of the Cure’s “In Between Days.” Folds treats the song in much the same manner as the original, though with a bit more optimism and piano, proving he really does know how to be “all dressed up like the Cure.” The second track is a Folds original, reportedly written only a week before recording. “Give Judy My Notice” has the lovely piano melodies characteristic of songs from the past like “Brick.” The song tells a tale of breaking up with Folds, seeming gentle and tender while “giving Judy his notice.” He does get his characteristic jibe in, however, when he sings with crass elegance, “Judy I won’t … follow you around and hold the door / I’m not sorry till you’re sorrier.”The EP also includes fast and frenzied circular piano on “Dog” and a tune co-written with former Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jesse, “Wandering.”The opening track on Sunny 16 is perhaps the quintessential Folds number, sampling similar beats and themes from songs like “One Angry Dwarf,” “Happier,” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” The title of the song says it all: “There is Always Something Cooler Than You.” Fuzzy bass fills in the background as Folds chants, “Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, / but there’s always someone cooler than you. / Yeah … but you won’t be it for long. / Oh there’s always someone cooler than you.” On the song “All You Can Eat,” Folds tries his hand at politics, a rare theme for him that he manages quite well. The innocent-sounding melody is deceiving once the lyrics are heard. Folds takes jabs at SUV drivers, Wal-Mart, consumer culture and obnoxious people, in general, singing with his childlike frankness that they don’t care “just as long as there’s enough for them.”With a new album due out sometime this year, Folds is showing promise for his future musical endeavors with these EPs. Although he shies away from anything too new or groundbreaking, he continues to be a reliable source for great music. Folds’ knack for melody and lyrical witticisms make him one of the best songwriters this generation has seen.

Contact Julie Bender at jbender@nd.edu