In between Ben Folds’ first solo album in 2001 and last year’s Songs For Silverman, the pianist songwriter from North Carolina became something of a pioneer by being one of the first major artists to release a collection of EPs exclusively through the internet.
Speed Graphic, Sunny 16 and Super D were all 5 track affairs consisting of four original Folds compositions and a cover version – unusually for EPs, where at least a bit of filler can be found, all the tracks were of outstandingly high quality and now Folds has decided to take the best tracks and compile an album – with a few extra additions for the completists who have already downloaded all three EPs.
So while this isn’t an ‘official’ Ben Folds album, it’s an essential purchase if you didn’t get into downloading music until a year so or ago. Although not all the tracks from the EP make it (with the piano-only version of Give Judy My Notice a particularly sad omission), it still makes for a remarkably coherent album in its own right.
Folds’ version of The Cure‘s In Between Days kicks off the album, the rolling piano chords propelling the song along in an unstoppable fashion. It’s a lot lighter than the original version, but it’s no worse for that.
In Between Days is one of four cover versions, with songs by The Divine Comedy, The Darkness and, erm, Dr Dre all featuring. It’s the latter that’s the highlight, in which Folds turns Bitches Ain’t Shit into a sad piano ballad – well, as sad as a song which includes the line “lick on these nuts and suck this dick” can be…
Folds’ version of Songs Of Love is a bit more faithful to Neil Hannon’s original, while Get Your Hands Off My Woman is just hysterical, with Folds’ imitating Justin Hawkin’s falsetto to perfection. It’s entertaining too to hear Folds pounding the piano for all its worth, substituting the keys for the original’s old-school guitar riffs.
Of Folds’ own compositions, it’s the usual mix of the quirky and personal. All U Can Eat is an unusually political song, in which Folds attacks the self-interest of America’s rich and powerful (“God made us number one ’cause he loves us the best/Well he should go bless someone else for a while and give us a rest”). It’s a great song which reminds one of the best of Randy Newman.
There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You returns to one of Folds’ favourite topics, that of bullies (“make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but there’s always someone cooler than you”) over one of his most infectious melodies, while Bruised (taken from his collaboration with Ben Lee and Ben Kweller) is one of his most affecting songs about lost love.
While it may be of more specific interest to people who are already fans of Ben Folds, there’s plenty for newcomers to discover what all the fuss is about. As a stop-gap until Folds’ new studio album, expected next year, then this is about as good as it gets.