Monday, November 7, 2011

Ben Folds 7: Songs For Silverman

It was a longish time before his second solo album. There had been a few EPs (which we’ll get to soon enough), a live album and a project for William Shatner, but a real Ben Folds album gained the stature of a grand statement in its absence. To make things even wackier, there was a core band of bass and drums on every track. So why had the Five disbanded if that was Ben’s preferred sound?

Most of the Songs For Silverman veer towards the more serious side, as opposed to the snarky geek rock that had been his hallmark for the previous decade. He gets most of the comedy out of the way early; “Bastard” might have been a self-portrait, if not a more biting portrait of Stan from the last album. Its trips through various time signatures keep you guessing. “You To Thank” is another biting portrait, this time of a marriage that perhaps shouldn’t have been celebrated. A trip through America’s heartland inspired “Jesusland”, which he soon performed with an “arena rock” arrangement on tour, but that only distracted from the song’s message, as wonderful as the sound was. The Elton John homage “Landed” is a good barometer for the sound of this album; it even had a mix with Paul Buckmaster strings to support the “Levon”-style piano approach. One of his best songs, it’s basically a phone call from someone who’s just escaped a stifling relationship. Before things get too heavy, he sings “Gracie” for his daughter, a charming lullabye with a childlike hook.

The anti-love songs continue with “Trusted”, a blunt portrait of division, and “Give Judy My Notice”, a gorgeous kiss-off. “Late” is a tribute to recently deceased songwriter Elliot Smith, and works only because of that knowledge. The remainder of the album is dedicated to some very vague songs, thick with possibility of interpretation. “Sentimental Guy” is a slight self-portrait (maybe) and “Time” gets a boost from lovely harmonies, including the voice of one Al Yankovic. The big enigma is “Prison Food”, with lyrics presumably about another impending breakup without illuminating the title; here the harmonies on the bridge resemble those of Pink Floyd (thanks to his British drummer).

Songs For Silverman takes a while to sink in, and as good as some of the individual tracks are, it does work best as a whole. Hindsight has explained a lot, as despite the loving dedication and photos of the woman, Ben was on the verge of divorcing his third(!) wife. This knowledge only makes the subject matter more uncomfortable to consider, but it’s doubtful he was trying to make his own Blood On The Tracks or Here, My Dear.

Ben Folds Songs For Silverman (2005)—

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