Major-label support meant that the second album from the Ben Folds Five got a little more attention, but the music scene wasn’t about to embrace a piano-driven trio no matter how fuzzy the bass was. Still, the boys stepped up to the plate with Whatever And Ever Amen. The album boasted even more intellectually biting lyrics alongside some quieter moments, and even managed a hit with “Brick”, a song that gives chills on the first listen, and will still do so even after one realizes that the song’s about accompanying your girlfriend to an abortion clinic.
“One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces” is a wonderful riposte of a one-time bullied geek enjoying his “fame”. Unfortunately, “Fair” takes a little too much time with the same chords and lyrics to highlight the boys’ harmonies. The somber “Brick” is defused by “Song For The Dumped” with its adamant “give me my money back” chorus. “Selfless, Cold And Composed” has a jazzy Bacharach feel and nice string accents, but again, takes too long. But all is well when the ode to “Kate” gallops into the speakers.
The second half of the album straddles heaviness and silliness. “Smoke” wanders around a 3/4 meter under a melodica, while the unrelated “Cigarette” is almost a Tom Waits pastiche, with its lonesome barroom piano and ironic plotline. “Steven’s Last Night In Town” is a hilarious portrait of a guest who stays too long, embellished by members of the Klezmatics. The attitude continues on with “Battle Of Who Could Care Less”, sealing his status as spokesman for jaded twentysomethings. The final two songs—“Missing The War” and “Evaporated”—get very quiet and a little sad, despite occasional dynamic punctuations from the band.
Alternately hilarious and poignant, Whatever And Ever Amen was a strong follow-up that took a while to catch on to the masses. When it did, it would become the band’s biggest hit. A later expanded version restored some of the audio-verité elements that had disappeared from all but the first pressings, along with a hilarious hidden track. And of course, there were a few bonuses in the form of B-sides like the instrumental “Theme From ‘Dr. Pyser’”, a faithful cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star” and the wonderful “Air”, written for the inexplicable big-budget Godzilla movie.
Ben Folds Five Whatever And Ever Amen (1997)—3½
2005 expanded, remastered CD: same as 1997, plus 7 extra tracks