Ben Folds: “Way to Normal

Eric Klosterman

After a long three years consisting of orchestra tours, soundtrack work and a stunning reunion show with his old bandmates, Ben Folds has finally made the wait for a new album worthwhile. “Way to Normal” shows a stark transition from the subdued, introspective effort of “Songs for Silverman” to a more lighthearted album of meticulously crafted pop songs.
The album contains several standout tracks. “Hiroshima” pays tribute to both an Elton John hit (“Bennie and the Jets”) and a less-fortunate hit of Ben’s own. Also, “You Don’t Know Me,” is a charmingly quirky duet between Folds and indie songstress Regina Spektor. And finally, there’s “Cologne,” a bittersweet ballad that remains endearing while avoiding heavy-handed clichés.
Another track, “Brainwascht,” staggers and stomps along like an old Ben Folds Five track and sits nicely among the other more pop-oriented songs. The fun does not stop at the end of the album though; one can also check out the fake album internet “leak” masterminded by Folds for eager pirates to lap up.
Set against the backdrop of his hook-laden melodies are Folds’ trademark satirical lyrics. As he pounds out catchy chord progressions at his piano, Ben spouts vitriol towards such unsuspecting subjects as self-absorbed suburbanites (“The Frown Song”), overhyped-but-unsubstantiated New Age cures (“Dr. Yang”) and even his own success (“Free Coffee”).
In his Ben Folds Five days, his “angry young man” image gave credence to his sarcastic wit but now as a forty-something father of two, he has shown some signs of settling down.
“The Way to Normal” cover and booklet depict Folds as lounging in his own warped suburban world, but he is still apt to send sardonic jabs from afar at anyone who asks for it.
In “The Frown Song,” Folds sings, “Tread slowly from the car to the spa / like a weary war-torn refugee / crossing the border with your starving child / It’s a struggle just to get to shiatsu.”
Gone are the days of Ben Folds trying to find his place in a world he does not feel at home in; as he moves toward his own personal idea of normality, he now speaks from a curmudgeonlier standpoint.
One would not be surprised if in 20 years he ends up as a crotchety, geriatric piano rocker who berates curious trespassers from his porch, threatening to put a keytar where the sun don’t shine.
As long as he keeps honing his craft, his fans probably won’t mind him.
Even though people — mainly music critics — wonder when Ben will make peace with his angst-ridden self, it is clear that he will continue to make whatever music he wants to anyway. It does not matter whether or not he wins the battle, because he could not care less.