on September 30, 2008
From the head-banging intro of "Hiroshima" (pun intended) to the symphonic sounds of "Cologne" and the electronic, synthetic experimentations of "Free Coffee", this may be Ben Folds most diverse album since The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner and with arguably more standouts.
I had the pleasure of hearing "Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)" at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center when Ben was in town and thought it rocked then and it still rocks now, in a way only Ben Folds can rock. In terms of piano parts, I think this album most closely resembles his last endeavor Songs for Silverman but perhaps with more major chords and less syncopation (but I'll have to see the sheet music when it comes out to be sure). There's also a generally faster tempo to most of the songs which may make it more immediately likeable, but could also wear down its welcome sooner (it's still too early to tell, but a couple songs remind me of Speed Graphic's hyperactive "Dog", including the conspicuous "Errant Dog"). If you're anything like me, upbeat songs are more appealing immediately, but ballads grow on me over time, so my favorite songs from Songs for Silverman now are "Time, "Prison Food" and "You to Thank" (not really a ballad I know).
By all accounts, this is an engaging and impressive album from one of the most impressive musicians around. You can't deny he's got piano chops (maybe the best in the business) and he gets to show off a little (not like "Bastard" or "Philosophy" going way back...), but if you ever hear him in concert you know he's still got it. And though some may feel his lyrics leave something to be desired (my wife included) his songwriting is as fresh and original as ever with standouts "You Don't Know Me", "Effington" and "Cologne" (by the way, if you get the chance to listen to the "Piano Orchestra Version" of "Cologne", do; it's fantastic).
Much like everyone else it seems, we've all been fans of Ben Folds since he was Ben Folds Five. So he clearly has a very devoted following of people like me who will buy anything he puts out on day one.
So I have listened to 'Way to Normal' four times now. After the first time, I thought, "This is really uneven and kind of disappointing". Usually I'm hooked after one listen.
There are some really stupid, childish lyrics on the album - 'Errant Dog' comes to mind right away and the "f'ing a Guru" in 'The Frown Song'. Those lyrics made me cringe and feel really old. And then there's the really lame woman-leaves-man/ man-leaves-woman joke that leads into "B*&ch Went Nuts" with its David Carradine Kung Fu delivery. Maybe today's teenagers might find this stuff funny, but I did not.
Also, there are a few songs with a weird sounding/fuzzy piano/keyboard in the background that sounds very out-of-place on a Ben Folds album (It almost sounds like Dr. Dre could have made those sounds).
Now despite those negatives, there are still a bunch of really good songs on here that make me remember why Ben Folds is one of my favorite artists. He's a great pop-song writer. He's one of the few artists today to really feature the piano (he makes me wish I could play). "Cologne" is such a powerful, personal song and probably the best song on the album. "B&*ch Went Nuts", "Brainwascht" and "Effington" are fun and fast-paced. "Kylie from Connecticut" was classic piano-man. I only wish the entire album lived up to those songs. Overall, a really uneven release...
on September 30, 2008
Just so you know where I'm coming from there hasn't been anything that Ben Folds has released that I have disliked. For people that have never liked him first off you're crazy but this album won't change your opinion. If you're just a Ben Folds Five fan then the same is also true. However if you were let down by his 2nd solo album Songs For Silverman, because of it's somber mood this is a return for the most part to his light-hearted, fun-loving self.
This album is somewhat of a concept album...I use the term concept album very loosely though. The concept is a satire on spoiled rich people(as the cover indicates). Starting with the opening track Hiroshima where sings about people watching him fall down on stage like it's the end of the world. Dr Yang is send up on kooky doctors (that the rich go to). However, I think the heart of the concept is in the third song The Frown Song which comments on people who are generally unpleasant to everyone around them with the great lyric"Rock on. rock on with your fashionable frown...and spread the love around". The are other songs that play in to the concept but I'll leave it at that. Because as always with Ben Folds this album is really song driven and some of the greatest songs on this album don't serve the concept. Cologne is a beautiful under stated love song done in the poignant quirky way only Ben Folds does. Kylie From Connecticut seems to be The Ascent Of Stan meets Eleanor Rigby a sublime bittersweet ballad. And Of course this album has You Don't Know Me which might end up being Folds's biggest hit since Brick...a very catchy song that will be hard to get out of your head once you hear it.
As others have mentioned there are also "fake" versions of some of these songs and some of those songs are better than the ones on the album (particularly Bitch Went Nutz is better than Bitch Went Nuts) so if you care be on the look out for those songs as Ben has said he will release them as future B-sides.
on October 3, 2008
Ben Folds' third solo album 'Way To Normal', though not necessarily bad, is probably his weakest effort to date. The songs are pretty hit or miss: there's the melodically pleasing single 'You Don't Know Me' featuring the talented Regina Spektor, and the fun & catchy 'Errant Dog', but some tracks, like 'Hiroshima', which came from an improv-ed song at a concert in Berlin, and the fairly bland 'Kylie From Connecticut', are pretty forgettable. One that was particularly disappointing was 'Free Coffee', a potentially cool jamtronica tune that's almost ruined by liberal use of a grainy effect. Still, it's a decent CD, and is worth buying if you're a fan of Folds. If you consider yourself among the hardcore, however, I recommend getting the special edition CD/DVD combo.
The main feature, an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary, contains interesting interviews with Ben's parents, tour group, and even former teachers & principles. You get kind of a mini-biography of Folds as told by his friends and family, a look at the recording in Dublin of the fake leaked songs, and some extra tour footage (Tambo-cam :) ), all with studio recordings of 'Effington', 'Errant Dog', 'Frown Song', and 'Kylie From Connecticut' mixed in. The DVD also contains a somewhat-bizarre, but interesting recording of 'Cologne' featuring a "piano orchestra" and Ben's kids (awwww), filmed on a strange German music show [look for the cat-lady], and the music video for 'Hiroshima' by Corn Mo. Unfortunately the video for 'You Don't Know Me', done by Tim and Eric of "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job" was not included, presumably because it wasn't finished in time for the DVD's release.
All in all:
on October 3, 2008
Where do I start? I've been a fan for the past 11 years. So far, SONGS FOR SILVERMAN is the only Ben Folds solo album that I've been able to fully get behind. While ROCKIN' THE SUBURBS and his three EP's have some shining moments, they bring incinsistency, as well. Unfortunately, WAY TO NORMAL carries that trend and not the mature growth exhibited on SFS.
The album opens with "Hiroshima," which is an obvious take on "Benny & the Jets" that crosses the border into 'ripoff' territory. "The Frown Song" carries the rhythm of RTS highlight, "Losing Lisa" except with bad singing and silly social commentary.
The low-lights keep coming, although the Regina Spektor duet is cutesy and so it gets a pass. "Cologne" is where I think Ben starts to get a bit more mature, but with a chorus like, '4-3-2-1 I'm letting you go,' I realize at this point there's no going back; Ben Folds has made a genuinely bad album.
Even worse was his decision to work with producer Dennis Herring who auto-tunes the hell out of Folds' voice, giving it that shrinkwrapped, plastic feel that only Cher and J-Lo could appreciate. The songs tend to be overloud with no real dynamic ("Dr. Yang"), the bass - instead of that quasi Ben Folds Five fuzzbass - is turned waaaaaaaaaaaay up and sounds like a muddy mess of distortion.
The only redeemer is "Errant Dog" whose music is on par with the best stuff Folds has ever written. The lyrics are a different story completely.
In the end, it seems like Folds is TRYING to make a "fun" album as retaliation to the poor fan-reception given to SFS. Unfortunately we only get out of things as much as we put into them and WAY TO NORMAL is turd polishing all the way. If Folds had brought some better songs, or worked with a better producer (what happened to self-producing, or working with Caleb Southern?) maybe this collection could have been saved. Skip it and - if you're still on board - hope that in three years from now (when the next album drops) Folds will have rediscovered what made him a great songwriter and decide to share it with us.
on October 13, 2008
There are several versions of "Way to Normal" being offered. This, the "Super Deluxe" version, includes the 12-track CD, the DVD performances, an extra CD with improv songs recorded live, and a vinyl double album of the same songs on the CD.
I have to say, it was a lot of fun opening up the huge, bright red-fabric covered boxed set album with gold lettering and dig through to find all the cool stuff inside. I think a lot of the whole experience of buying an album has been lost now that we can all download MP3s and don't have to listen to an album in its entirety. This bundle, including the double albuum, kind of brings that back somewhat, and it's nice.
This edition is the only place to get the improv songs, I believe, although folds will be releasing additional improv songs exclusively through online retailer iTunes.
So, if you're an uber Ben Folds fan, or really love his improv songs like I do, or are fan of vinyl, this is worth buying. If not, stick with the regular edition or perhaps the Bonus DVD limited edition. It is kind of expensive for what you're getting.
on May 21, 2009
I was very disappointed by this album. I had downloaded the fake album they had recorded overnight and became very excited about the real album. The fake songs were fun, funny, clever lyrics, and catchy. So when I received the real album and realized I liked the fake songs better than the real songs I was very disappointed.
This album has the first Ben Folds song(s) that I haven't liked. I've been seeing him live and listening to the albums for more than 10 years and I couldn't like this album. Some of the songs on the album I can't even finish all the way through. I get irritated and have to change it. Some of the techno sounds really aggravate me because they drowned out the music with annoying noises. There are a few songs on the CD that I really like and sound like quality Ben but as a CD it is lacking on many tracks. It reminds me of buying a CD from a one hit wonder and realizing they only have one or two good songs. That isn't what I expected at all from this CD. I'm not sure if the producer had too much influence on mixing or what happened, but hopefully the next one will be back on the level I have come to expect from Ben.
on October 6, 2008
Let's see, some of the complaints people have made about Way To Normal:
a. too much cussing (go back to any Ben Folds Five album. there has always been cussing in his tunes. he seems to have a lot to cuss about lately. I'm willing to cut him slack. nearly every song has the f word at some point, so prepare yourself...you might actually hear some cussing! don't be too offended!)
b. he needs to "grow up" (i.e., this album is a step back in his maturity)
well, let me say, screw maturity. Ben has always had a sense of humor in his songs, even the earnest ballad on here ("Cologne") has some mildly humorous lines about the astronaut who put on a diaper. no need to grow up Ben, and again, you seem to have had a lot to deal with in your life lately, so feel free to be immature and funny and nasty to your ex!
c. the songs are overproduced
some of the songs on here are, indeed, a bit "busy" (see especially: Dr. Yang, Errant Dog, etc.). I have to say, though, Cologne is one of his simplest, most beautiful ballads he has ever written (and NOT overproduced on here...very tasteful orchestration). And for my money, Effington has a GREAT arrangement and tremendous piano work, regardless of what you might think about the lyrics.
There are some great songs on here. "You Don't Know Me" is a really cool little pop song, with deeper lyrics than you realize at first (and nice vocals from Regina Spector). "Effington," as I mentioned, is up there with my favorite Ben tunes. "Dr. Yang" has a cool, "Sports and Wine" feel to it, and also reminds me a bit of early solo McCartney (some of the other songs do as well). Even the "throwaway" songs like Hiroshima and B--- Went Nuts have catchy pop choruses, and Ben's vocals are just as good as they have always been. Overall, this is not his greatest work (I hope that is yet to come, although the first few Ben Folds Five albums are awfully hard to top), but it is a highly personal record, with some common themes (loss, moving on, how rich people try to fulfill themselves, dogs that won't listen to their owners, etc.) I think these negative reviews have a lot to do with people's expectations of Ben...he will NEVER write an entire album of serious pop masterpieces (he does not aspire to be Billy Joel) and I would be disappointed if he did. He has ALWAYS retained his sense of humor, the fun in his music, and the connection with his fans. Don't hit your head again Ben! I will be rooting for you.
on October 2, 2008
Most of the songs on this album are really solid, and I think it's a exellent mix of the Ben Folds Five power-pop sound as well as the solo Songs for Silverman-esque softer sound. BUT, the song "Free Coffee" messes with my ears in a bad way. There's a static-y noise that overshadows Ben's voice and doesn't add anything to the song. I actually think it ruins an otherwise great song. The rest of the album is awesome, as I'd expect from Ben, this one aspect of this one song just really pissed me off.
on October 9, 2008
I was amazed when Elton John released The Captain And The Kid in 2006, how wonderful music can one make in this century. Now, two years later I am very happy to say the same with new Ben Folds record. So many interresting music ideas are sorted in good sequence, the album is like real album of photos. Backing vocals are composed very funny, on many places quite dominating. In two or three songs it seems to me I hear Scissor Sisters. But it does not matter 'cause as I've written - this stuff is connected in very nice block of songs sorted from agreable beginning into the meaningful end. Honest recommendation especially for people who love strong sound of piano in pop music. I don't understand how anybody can mark this album only by one star. Let's play it whole, not just in 30-seconds clips.