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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Before I start this review, I just want to say that I have been a huge fan of Ben's music since the release of the debut Ben Folds Five album back in 1995 and consider 2001's 'Rockin' The Suburbs' album to be one of my all time favourites, so I write from the perspective of a long-time admirer of the man and his work. However, with the exception of the 'Fear Of Pop' project, I think that - sadly - in 'Way To Normal' Ben has probably made his worst studio album to date.

The album starts off brightly. 'Hiroshima', a musical pastiche of Elton John's 'Bennie & The Jets', is a nice piece of inoffensive pop and 'Dr. Yang' is full of energy and pounding piano keys, although, production-wise, it could have been slightly less crashy and noisy. 'The Frown Song' is a decent enough track as well, but none of the opening three could be described as classics. The bouncy, melodic 'You Don't Know Me' (featuring Regina Spektor) is easily one of the album's highlights and one of the most obviously divorce-influenced tracks. 'Before Cologne' and 'Cologne' are very pretty pieces of music, although some of the lyrics in the latter really don't work - the news story part grates badly.

'Errant Dog' is an enjoyable track and reminds me very much of early Ben Folds Five - there's nothing particularly deep about it, but it still manages to be one of my favourite cuts here. 'Free Coffee' would be a good track if it wasn't for the really horrible metallic sound of the piano (achieved by putting empty Altoid tins on the piano strings), but still makes a good lyrical point. I think the next track will be either something you love or hate and does nothing to assist relations between men and women. Called 'B*tch Went Nuts', it is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album as far as the music goes, but the lyrics are borderline offensive and could even be viewed as misogynistic. Of course, some will say that I should have a sense of humour about it and I have tried. I really have. Unfortunately, I don't think that Ben is joking. For humour to work, a lot is about the delivery, context and intent and, considering Ben's recent divorce, this song is difficult to love or find side-splittingly funny.

The rest of the album 'Brainwascht', 'Effington' and 'Kylie From Connecticut' are all fairly unremarkable and are about as good as each other. In fact, 'Effington' is a good example of Ben's humour on this album - it is a joke that quickly wears thin. I believe that a younger artist could probably have got away with some of the material on this album, but to hear such lame humour and juvenile cussing from a man Ben's age... well, it just doesn't sound that funny or entertaining. He is a man of huge musical talent, but so much of this album simply backfires and I think, quite honestly, that he simply needs to grow up a bit. He sounds best when he is exploring his more sensitive, positive side and very little of that is demonstrated on 'Way To Normal'.

Still, there is enough on this album for the Folds fan to be entertained, but this, for me, is most certainly his weakest studio album to date. I still love the guy, will keep the faith and continue to buy the music, but I'm definitely hoping for an improvement next time round.
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on 16 June 2009
I read all the reviews for this album and they are really polarised so wasn't sure what I'd make of it. I own most of his earlier work and have seen him live and consider myself a fan of pretty much all of it. "Way to Normal" is good and its growing on me but its not amazing and feels a bit like an album of B sides and unreleased material. However that said there are some great tracks on here, Cologne is superb and there is a little bit of anarchy on "Dr Yang" and "Bitch went Nuts" that is unlike the more sober tone of "Silverman". If you're a fan buy it and you will, as ever with Folds, find much to love, if you want to start your Folds collection I think "..Suburbs" or "..Messner" are more consistently better. Would love to give it three and half stars!
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on 2 October 2008
Ben Folds is virtually a nobody in the UK, yet he is supremely talented and writes lyrics that few others would even attempt. Yes, there is a lot of swearing on this album, and some of it seems gratuitous, but the tunes and the musicianship are excellent. Hiroshima, You Dont Know Me, Cologne, Kylie and Effington are as good as anything he has ever done IMO.
As a whole the album is not as good as Songs For Silverman, but for less than a Tenner this is great fun - but don't play it when the children are around !
BTW, he produced 5 great songs for the Over The Hedge childrens' film soundtrack - that's worth getting too.
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on 3 October 2008
I have listened to all of Ben Folds previous work, and was extremely anxious to get a copy of his latest album. However, whereas "Songs for Silverman" sounds like he took his time in producing an excellent album with almost all of the tracks good to excellent, "Way to Normal" sounds like Ben hasn't really tried too hard and as a result there are mediocre tracks mixed in with some good efforts. I probably haven't listened enough yet, but I would estimate that there are really only about 4 tracks that are up to his normal high standard. Overall a bit disappointing given the time between the last album and this, I really expected more of a man with such talent.
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on 1 October 2008
I'm a massive Folds' fan but walking in store to buy the cd I was praying that Ben was going to furnish us with something substantially different to Songs for Silverman, which contained some undeniably quality tracks (Jesusland, Landed etc) but just lacked that certain something. That certain something that always jumped out at you back in the golden years. As a complete album, in my view, this is better than Songs for Silverman. A lot better. It finally seems that he's beginning to echo the greatness of The Five and tapped back into that certain something. And it's only taken a decade. The brilliant Folds' wit is here too and seems to have stepped up a gear - no more apparent than in 'free coffee' which seems to hit home on something so simple, it's powerful - also the synth stuff going on in this track is nothing if not addictive.

And yes, the language is course and explicit but that is Ben Folds, and it really shouldn't suprise anyone anymore. He's one of the most un-pc unapologetic muscians alive. Example - Bitch Went Nuts - perhaps won't go down especially well with the feminists, of which take up about 0% of Ben's fan base anyway - but it's just undeniably good.

Favourite track at this exact moment - Effington - it's strangely compelling. If i had to choose a track to cut and there was a gun held to my head, I'd choose Dr Yang. I just hope no-one ever holds a gun to my head.

This won't get the recognition Ben deserves, but we're all used to that by now anyway, and no fan should be dissapointed with this effort - it's just too un-boring.
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on 30 September 2008
Ben Folds is a classic songwriter. No one can argue with that. Personally I've preferred his solo work to that of Ben Folds Five but I know a lot of his fans would say the complete opposite.
Rockin' The Suburbs is one of my most played albums since buying it back in 2001 but I've got a sneaky suspicion that could soon change.
Way To Normal is such a refreshing album that I think I need to put it back on right now. Hold on... Right, the first thing that hits you with this album as a whole is that it far more upbeat (musically anyway) than Songs For Silverman.
The lyrics are always Ben's forte and once again he is witty, sweary, hard hitting and never, ever boring. Highlights, if I must choose some are Hiroshima, You Don't Know Me (duet with Regina Spektor), Free Coffee & B*tch Went Nuts.
I doubt it will happen but hopefully this album will get Ben Folds the recognition he deserves.
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on 24 March 2011
...and without the gratuitous swearing, too.
Okay, that's the headline point. Like much of the content on this album, it acts to turn your head and shock you. Actually, behind the constant effing and blinding, there are some very clever and very catchy songs. "Cologne" is an absolute standout, and the opening "Hiroshima" is a wonderful glam-stomp that makes perfect sense in the car (until it judders to a halt - the song, that is, not the car...).
Elsewhere, the tone of the songs is bitter and lyrically foul-mouthed - far more so than anything since "Song For The Dumped". And that gives us a clue to where Ben might have been coming from at that point in time. If not that, then he must have been aiming for a kind of Randy Newman-esque narrator's voice, bringing the characters to life for us to react to, rather than venting his own frustrations with his music. Hmm. Somehow it just doesn't convince.
Perhaps it's telling that, at the time of writing, Ben's recent tour had dropped much of the Way To Normal stuff, retaining only "Cologne" and "You Don't Know Me". You can draw a straight line from Songs For Silverman through to Lonely Avenue, and Way To Normal is somewhere below that line.
Worth buying? Yes, because there are some very good songs on here, but don't expect to be returning to this album as a whole very often.
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on 25 March 2009
After the more stately, restrained vibe of Songs for Silverman, (which often sounded like prime 70s Elton John) Folds 'proper' follow-up is a more manic, mischievous beast. Wheras Silverman relied on traditional instrumentation and arrangement, there's an air of experimentation here; from the sampled crowd noises on Hiroshima, to the skittering synthesiser beats on Free Coffee and the extended orchestral intro to Cologne.

It's a gradual shift, rather than a complete inversion though, and Folds rarely strays from his traditional template: pungent, blackly humorous lyrics, attractive melodies and fantastic piano playing. And why should he? He does it brilliantly and it keeps his skill as a lyricist front and centre.

In an inversion of your typical angry young man paradigm, Folds seems to get more splenetic as he ages. Here he sees human folly and misery everywhere he looks, from 'the anthropology store erected on Indian burial grounds' to 'an astronaut who put on a pair of diapers, and drove 18 hours to kill her boyfriend' and a God 'laughing at us and our football team'. Broken relationships loom large. It's testament to his talent that even with this subject matter he remains something of a riot.

Not that the more delicate, empathetic quality of Silverman is completely gone. Kylie is Calling from Connecticut is heartbreaking, and along with Boxing and Fred Jones Pt 2 showcases Folds rare ability to convincingly inhabit a character much older than himself.

There's a couple of minor missteps, and Folds almost shoots himself in the foot by marrying the lyric 'But if you had to say it all with a pop song, couldn't you at least have written me a good one', to what's probably the album's weakest melody. But overall, this is Folds' most wholly enjoyable album since he dropped the Five.
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on 5 October 2008
I was apprehensive at first, the production seemed flat and bland, and only a couple of tracks hit the spot. But like all great albums this is a grower, and one that I can now listen to from beginning to end with a smile on my face. It has funny, bitter, ironic lyrics and musically harks back to the old BF5 on some tracks, with more up-tempo energy than his previous release Songs for Silverman. It also contains some of his strongest work, in particular Cologne and Bitch Went Nuts are immediate standouts. So if you're an old fan or new to Ben Fold's this album is a must-own!
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on 29 September 2008
Just a quick review of Ben's excellent new album.After the fantastic but downbeat Songs Of Silverman, this is a more musically upbeat record but as usual lyrically it is sharp and spiky.Hiroshima and the single You Don't Know Me At All are really catchy but quirky songs,and so different from anything on the last CD.After just one listen it's up to Ben's usual high standards and the production gives it a slightly brighter feel to it,which is a good thing.Highly recommended.
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