Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
In the Folds
Ben Folds: Songs for Silverman
Have pushing 40 and the responsibilities of parenthood finally wrung the
last bits of wiseass witticisms from piano maestro Ben Folds’ songbook?
Folds’ second solo album, Songs for Silverman, appears to
emphatically make a convincing case toward the affirmative. Truthfully,
though, Folds is still as satirical as he’s been throughout his career.
(Those seeking to validate this argument need look no further than Folds’
recent wry, deadpan cover of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain't Shit”.) Folds’
Swiftian barbs simply fly a little lower beneath the radar these days. And
this less-obvious lyrical tact applies to Songs for Silverman as a
whole. It’s neither as immediately arresting (nor as funny) as Rockin'
the Suburbs, his excellent 2001 examination of “white man’s pain.” No
castoffs like Fred Jones or Baby Boomer sellouts like Stan to be found here.
Silverman (according to Folds, the title has no specific meaning) is
a more intimate collection of songs, which makes it less adventurous but
more personally felt. Folds has mastered his material to the point that he
no longer relies on a smartass punch line to deliver the goods.
Recording with a new rhythm section (bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer
Lindsay Jamieson), Folds has returned to the core piano, bass and drums
lineup that brought him renown fronting Ben Folds Five (with Robert Sledge
and Darren Jesse) during the 1990s. There’s less guitar than appeared on the
self-consciously trying-to-break-from-the-familiar mold of Suburbs.
And that makes Silverman a composed, unfussy listen. There are few
surprises, and what’s presented is an impeccably executed collection of
Lyrically, Folds delivers several knockouts. Confident opener “Bastard” is a
reality check against kids in a hurry to reach legal drinking age (“They
can't wait to grow up so they can kiss some ass”). The tongue-in-cheek “You
to Thank” -- about a bewildered couple who marries in Vegas in a drug-fueled
haze and then has to deal with their respective families’ overly
enthusiastic response -- plays like a hilarious send-up of Folds’ “The
Luckiest,” which has become a bona fide wedding day favorite. Getting out
from under the thumb of a domineering lover is explored on the chorus-driven
“Landed,” which is reminiscent of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in its
theatrically grand arrangement. The theme of bolting from a one-sided
relationship is further explored on the more downbeat, regretful ballad
“Give Judy My Notice,” a song that initially appeared on 2003’s Speed
Graphic EP, and is rerecorded here in a noticeably tighter form.
Silverman’s crowning achievement, though, is the dramatic,
string-filled “Jesusland,” sporting a shuffling beat befitting its
meandering observations detailing “beautiful McMansions on a hill” and
“riverboat casinos.” Folds ingeniously exposes the hypocrisy of those who
profit in the name of a man most wouldn’t give the time of day to if they
actually met him. (This is one track you’re not likely to find on too many
jukeboxes in red states.) It’s also the most politically and culturally
biting cut on the album, and it would have been nice if Folds had included
one or two more in this vein.
But Folds has weightier concerns. Some of them are extremely personal, like
the ode to his daughter (“Gracie”), while others pay respect to fallen
Elliott Smith (“Late”). On the closing “Prison Food” (which
features some amazing pedal steel from the great Bucky Baxter), Folds
addresses the whole “born alone, die alone” mortality question, thus
rounding out the conceptual notion begun by “Bastard.” Your birth may be out
of your hands, and you know you’re going to leave this earth someday, so
make the most of the time in between; don’t sprint to get old, celebrate the
simple pleasures in life. Bluntly, enjoy it.
Songs for Silverman is Folds' “comfortable in his own shoes” album.
It’s obvious that the one-hit wonder tag he picked up for the career-making
single “Brick” no longer applies. What’s left for the artist is making
classically sound pop records that celebrate the messiness of everyday
living, leaving posterity to those so inclined to obsess over such fickle
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