CD Review of Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds
Ben Folds:
Songs For Silverman

Reviewed by David Medsker


eez, Louise, who broke his heart this time? Ben Folds’ previous albums, both solo and with the late, great Ben Folds Five, have had their morose moments, but his newest, Songs for Silverman, flat out wallows. And dammit, and he’s taking us all down with him. It’s like the advice Bleeding Gums Murphy gave to Lisa Simpson about the blues: it’s not about making yourself feel better; it’s about making everyone else feel worse.

This is not what endeared Folds to people when he first hit the scene in 1995. Back then, he was playing “punk rock for sissies,” making fun of himself and his alternative mope rock upbringing (“I’ve seen your old ID, and you’re all dressed up like the Cure”), and bashing the ever loving shit out of his piano. That Ben may not be gone for good, but it appears he sat the majority of this one out. Frankly, we should have seen this coming; all of Folds’ albums, in retrospect, contained more ballads than rockers. It was only a matter of time before he made his first “pop rock for grown-ups” album, and here it is. The absence of an up-tempo jam like “Fired” takes some getting used to - the first spin brought to mind the album covers to the records that a post-Mitch & Mickey Eugene Levy released in “A Mighty Wind” - but in truth Silverman is the same brand of smart piano pop that Folds is known for. It’s just, well, sadder.

There is quiet speculation that Folds is single again, and that would certainly explain the majority of songs on Silverman. “Landed,” which smacks of early ‘70s-era Elton John, is an olive branch to a relative/ex-girlfriend that Folds had forsaken while involved with his now-ex. The two most hard hitting songs are “You to Thank,” where Folds sarcastically thanks his ex for the mess his life has become since they split, and the closer “Prison Food,” which sports a heartbreaking chorus that simply says, “Alone / Alone again.”

Luckily, there are light moments amidst the darkness. Well, one moment, anyway. “Gracie” is a sweet lullaby to his daughter, where he tells her, “I would never try to make you / Anything you didn’t want to be.” Of course, Folds being Folds, he later tells her, “you’ll be a lady soon / But until then / You got to do what I say.” “Late” is a farewell to Elliott Smith (prepare for a bunch of those to surface, much like tributes to Kurt Cobain in 1994), and Folds doesn’t point fingers at Smith’s decision to end his life but rather tells him that “the songs you wrote / Got me through a lot / Just wanna tell you that.”

If there is one thing about Silverman that is hard to shake, it is the overwhelming sense of familiarity. “Jesusland” bears an uncanny resemblance to Reinhold Messner’s “Mess,” while “You to Thank” is equal parts “Video” and “Narcolepsy.” The one time he gets away with cribbing from his past is on “Prison Food,” which has a manic drum track that would make Darren Jessee proud. If there is a positive to Folds’ tendency to repeat himself, it’s that it highlights the moments where he branches out. Witness the gorgeous but sad “Give Judy My Notice,” a pedal steel laced ballad that would not sound at all out of place on a Jayhawks album. It is arguably Silverman’s finest moment.

Clearly, Folds had a lot to get out of his system, and while Songs for Silverman ultimately rises above its solemnity, Folds would be wise not to push his luck next time around.

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