Friday, September 18, 2015

Ben Folds 14: So There

String accompaniments have been features of every Ben Folds album, going back to his first with the Five. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that each of the new songs on So There are all accompanied by an ensemble called yMusic, who provide strings, wind and brass accordingly.
With one exception, most of the songs are opaque lyrically, with an overlying effect of melancholy, even on the upbeat ones. “Capable Of Anything” can’t decide if it’s an apology, a rejoinder or a pep talk, and we’re dying to know who inspired the molasses-slow “Not A Fan”. The title track is the most complex, with its lightning piano runs and extended bridge. “Long Way To Go” is a completed version of a snippet dating back to the fake leak of Way To Normal, and the backing to “Phone In A Pool” sounds like something he’s written before. There’s an odd juxtaposition of references in “Yes Man”, which mentions both “click and drag” and a Fotomat; something the amateur photographer in Ben likely meant intentionally. Of course, Mr. Locker Room returns for “F10-D-A” (“with a big fat D… C what it’s like to B”), which is musically interesting, but the joke doesn’t survive the first verse. “I’m Not The Man”, written with actress and former paramour Alicia Witt, is another sad song in a string of several.
That’s just half of the album, and a setup for his very first completed “Concerto For Piano & Orchestra”. Commissioned and performed by the Nashville Symphony, this three-movement piece sounds very American to these ears, and anything with a prominent piano is going to be compared to “Rhapsody In Blue” anyway. Unlike other “rockers do classical” pieces, such as by Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson, this piece doesn’t try to marry the genre, nor is it obvious that it’s written by someone without a classical background. So for that, it works.
The listener is left thinking of such low-key conclusions as “Boxing”, “Evaporated” and “The Luckiest”—all nice songs, but an album full of them needs variety. So There lacks a really standout hook, but at least he’s not repeating himself. Too much.

Ben Folds So There (2015)—3

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