Ben Folds- Songs For Silverman (Epic)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Bastard
2. You To Thank
3. Jesusland
4. Landed
5. Gracie
6. Trusted
7. Give Judy My Notice
8. Late
9. Sentimental Guy
10. Time
11. Prison Food

Ben Folds is one of the most idiosyncratic guys in rock. A man who single-handedly brought the piano back to rock music, patently unafraid to take on any subject, and with the amazing ability to shift between profound emotion and riotous humor, Folds has evolved into music's hippest geek. Since his solo debut Rockin' The Suburbs four years ago, Folds has been busy touring (and releasing the excellent Ben Folds Live album), producing the performing on the alarmingly excellent William Shatner album, and cranking out EPs for sale on his web site. It's almost hard to believe he found room to also create the masterpiece that is Songs For Silverman.

First off, I believe Songs For Silverman is Ben Folds' most complete work. Every track is memorable in some way, and each track was cooked just long enough. Nothing seems overdone, or too rough. It is a much mellower, more personal release than Rockin' The Suburbs, almost surprisingly so given some of his song choices on the recent EPs and iTunes releases. There is something wonderfully cohesive about these tracks, as if they were all recorded very quickly while Folds was in some amazing songwriting zone, and then he refused to allow overproduction and marketing needs to get in the way of the music. A trio again with the help of bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Lindsay Jamieson, it is clear that this is the format in which Folds feel most at home.

Amazing lines abound on Silverman. From the opening Bastard, we have the universal "Why you gotta act like you know, when you don't know" and "Kids today are getting old too fast, they can't wait to grow up so they can kiss some ass. They get nostalgic about the last ten years, before the last ten years have passed." The piano work on Silverman is some of Folds' most intricate. From the complex opening of the sublime Jesusland to the Elton John tinklings on Landed to the pounding frustration of Trusted, the piano is every bit as much the focus of Silverman as the lines and the voice.

The tribute to Elliott Smith has a class that only Folds could pull off. Wanting to portray some of the man's substance instead of just lauding his memory, Folds comes up with lines like "Elliott, man you played a fine guitar, and some dirty basketball." One can almost see Smith smiling in acknowledgment. But much more profound are lines like "And like pathetic stars, the truck stop and rock club walls, I always knew you saw them too, but it's too late, too late. Don't you know, it's been too late for a long time." It's both a tribute and a track that Elliott and his fans would have enjoyed.

If Give Judy My Notice isn't the most unique breakup song in pop history, it's at least the best one since Song For The Dumped. The track is at once profoundly sad, funny, and uplifting. I can't explain it- maybe it's the title, or the country twang, or just how imagine Folds singing it. "But Judy, I've been feeling small too long, I love you so, but something's wrong." It doesn't get much more real than that. But then Folds drifts into "Judy, I won't be you bitch anymore, follow you around, and hold the door" and you can almost feel the smirk, but then we're quickly back to "and I'm not sorry if you're not sorry, and you're not sorry until I make you." Really, who else is able to simplify such complex emotions into a cogent pop songs?

Artists singing songs about their children are always tricky affairs, but Folds pulls off Gracie with, well, grace. What parent cannot identify with the lines "You nodded off in my arms watching TV, I won't move you an inch even though my arm's asleep. One day you're gonna wanna go, I hope we taught you everything you need to know."

And there is so, so , so much more, I could literally go on for pages. The gorgeous Landed is the most sublime single we've gotten from Folds since Brick. Catchy, soaring, layered and with all of the elements we've come to expect from a classic Ben Folds pop track. Then there is the confrontational Trusted with its fantastic chorus "It seems to me, if you can't trust, you can't be trusted."

I would have loved to have seen Folds' recent iTunes release Bitches Ain't Shit (a cover of the classic NWA song) included here, but I can clearly see how it would not have fit. Regardless, Folds has delivered eleven pop gems, and possibly his strongest release yet. I find it hard to believe that anyone with a love of good music would not find Songs For Silverman to be a boon.

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