Ben Folds Sticks to the Songs

Ben Folds Sticks to the Songs
Don't tell anyone, but Ben Folds, late of the Ben Folds Five and solo artist for the last four years, is damn near pushing 40. He's got a wife and children and all the accoutrements of a solid god-fearing life, but is his music losing that youthful edge? Maybe so, from the sounds of new effort Songs for Silverman. The sparse nature of the album and some beautiful instrumentation make it all seem like a decidedly different tack for the man who famously sang, "Give me my money back, you bitch!"

Folds sees the situation a little differently. "Every album has a different sort of direction, and here I don't see a particular direction. To me, if there's a temporary direction on this record it would be that elements of what I normally do aren't compartmentalised from song to song as much. For instance, there's more upbeat humour in the sadness and there's more sadness in the upbeat humour; they're kind of together rather than having one song saying ‘I want my t-shirt back' and everyone's being silly and the next one is dead serious."

Lest you think that he's now getting all sober about his music theory, Folds assuages the fears. "I did three EPs and there's all sorts of upbeat and silly shit on there and that's just because I wanted to make sure that when it came time to make the album I had those things out of my system and was very focused, so there's no ‘Get your hands off of my woman, motherfucker' going on." While there is a lack of four letter words, the album doesn't suffer; other, more subtle surprises make up for their absence.

While previous effort Rockin' the Suburbs exploded with energy and flair, Silverman builds its emotional centre through Folds' trademark use of a large rotating cast of characters to inhabit. From Ben Folds Five's "Alice Childress" to the new album's "Gracie," if Folds could ever guarantee anything it would be female protagonists. "I think it's kind of cool. It's nice to have something that resembles a style; I just feel something come to life when I really feel a character inside, especially when it's a whole person's name, like ‘Annie Walker' or ‘Fred Jones.' It's really old-fashioned."

A more subdued, natural production also leads to some seemingly unexpected instrumentation. "I'm now kind of back to a very basic setup where if something is interesting, like pedal steel or big harmonies, they really stick out, in that when something else enters and it's like ‘there's a lot going on here,' there's really not. It's a less is more sort of thing."

From gorgeous harmonies to subtle strings, Silverman cuts an emotional swath through his past material and Folds couldn't be happier. "I've been wanting to make an album for a long time that doesn't shock you out of the listening chair. I don't mean that I didn't want it to have dynamics or not to be fun, but some of my favourite albums have always been a Nick Drake album, or an album by Elliott Smith. You can put the album on at home and get into it and sit inside it and never feel like balloons came flying out of the air conditioning system with fucking confetti and stuff. I like that too, but I've always wanted to make this kind of album."