Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ben Folds 8: Supersunnyspeedgraphic

Way back in the lull following the live album, Ben started issuing a series of five-song CD EPs available via direct mail order or digital download, in the spirit of how bands used to put out singles. These were said to be contenders for what would eventually be his next album, but while a few would soon get regular rotation on stage, only one would turn up on his next real album. Of the three, the first EP is still the most satisfying. Speed Graphic kicks off with a fantastic cover of “In Between Days”, to the point where we think an whole album’s worth of “Ben Plays The Cure” could make that band’s catalog more palatable. “Give Judy My Notice” appears in a piano-and-voice version that’s just as nice as the one that made it to Songs For Silverman. “Protection” has a jazzy, Steely Dan feel; this escalates for “Dog”, mostly notable for the phone conversation with his wife at the end of the song. And “Wandering” is likely to be on anyone’s list of sappy Folds favorites. Sunny 16 arrived on schedule a few months later. This time the cover was “Songs Of Love” by the Divine Comedy, and the other songs were, well, okay. “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You” is the upbeat snide song; “You’ve Got To Learn To Live With What You Are” goes for Elton John territory; “All You Can Eat” puts a four-letter word in the chorus for shock effect; and “Rock Star” combines elements of all three. It was almost a year before Super D completed the trilogy, and it’s the weakest of the series. Maybe the extra time convinced him to save the good stuff for the album proper, so this was merely the leftovers? Two covers frame the set: a faithful recreation of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” by glam-rockers The Darkness, and a two-year-old live version of “Them That Got” by Ray Charles. “Kalamazoo” wanders along until a “disco string section” interrupts the middle, “Adelaide” seems an odd tribute to the city, while “Rent A Cop” is an obvious joke song. After finishing the promotion for Silverman, it was time for another stopgap. He did come through somewhat on the original promise by compiling a sampler from the EPs, with the incentive that most were remixed and/or augmented slightly. From the fifteen contenders, Supersunnyspeedgraphic, The LP includes two songs from Speed Graphic, four from Sunny 16 and three from Super D. In addition, one song from his collaboration with Ben Lee and Ben Kweller, a track from his soundtrack to Over The Hedge and best of all, his uniquely melodic cover of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” round out the set. (He did not, however, include anything from 2005’s Songs For Goldfish, a collection of live tracks and oddities released via the same channels as the EPs.) It’s still geared towards diehard fans anyway, most of whom were more excited about a real followup album. And then they could tread water while the next distraction came along. Footnote: Supersunnyspeedgraphic was “promoted” by the first live concert streamed on the Myspace social network, released the following year on DVD and a dozen years later as a CD. Much of the humor is lost without the visuals, and he triggers the same effect from his new old-school synth far too many times. An interlude by cross-dressing comedian Titler is a distraction, but the all-request format does dig deep into his repertoire. (Five songs from an iTunes-exclusive performance fill up the space.)
Ben Folds Speed Graphic (2003)—4 Ben Folds Sunny 16 (2003)—3 Ben Folds Super D (2004)— Ben Folds Songs For Goldfish (2005)—3 Ben Folds Supersunnyspeedgraphic, The LP (2006)—3 Ben Folds Live At Myspace (2019)—3

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