Ben Folds Keeps it Fresh and ‘Normal’

Three years after his last album “Songs for Silverman,” Ben Folds is back. His latest work, “Way to Normal,” was released with a bang despite some surrounding controversy. In mid-July, some new tracks were “leaked” online and were later declared fake by Folds himself. Despite the scandal, the real album, released on Sept. 30 strikes a chord with Folds fans.
The album kicks off with “Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head),” and leads the listener to believe that the album will be similar to classic Folds—catchy melodies, piano runs and lyrics that have nothing to do with what the tone that the music would suggest.
However, this assumption would be inaccurate. “Way to Normal” includes many songs stylistically similar to the ones that made Folds’ career, but he has made an attempt to mix his style up a bit. He takes the initiative to vary his traditional piano sound and moves toward a new and experimental sound.
“Free Coffee,” for example, is unique for Folds. He substitutes a twist of techno for his classic (and somewhat predictable) piano licks. The result is quite refreshing and original.
He also displays his creative lyricism in the song, “Effington,” where he wittily plays on the first two syllables of the song’s title.
“Maybe I should ditch this little white rental on the interstate and start a new effing life in Effington,” Folds croons. “Or I could just keep moving on, moving on, moving on until I get to Normal.” The verdict? Effing clever.
One of the most hyped songs on the album is “You Don’t Know Me,” a feisty track featuring Russian songstress and fellow piano lover Regina Spektor. A song about a couple realizing it should break up, the music feels repetitive and unmoving. How many times must one hear, “You don’t know me at all?”
Hands down, the best song on the album is “The Frown Song.” Overall, it’s just a good representation of what direction Folds is heading. Not only is it musically complex, drawing inspiration from blues and pop tied up in a synthesized bow, but it carries some witty lyrics as well. Folds pokes fun at too-cool hipsters with lyrics like, “Hard to remember how we managed before we could afford real and nervous breakdowns, or before the Anthropologie store was erected on Indian burial grounds?” He later encourages them to “rock on with (their) fashionable frown(s),” funny lyrics that capture an entire sub-group of our generation.
The album as a whole is a transitional one: a little of the old, a little of the new and a little in between. Dedicated fans will appreciate what they always have in Folds’ music—his raw talent. Even haters of the power-pop genre can’t deny his musical ability.
As for those who’ve dismissed his sound in the past, they should give Folds another chance. While most of his songs tend to sound the same, he has injected enough diversity into “Way to Normal” to make it enjoyable for anyone.