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Bitter Ben isn't at his best
on 25 November 2008
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.