Way To Normal

Ben Folds

Epic, 2008


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


There’s a popular expression used to describe the feelings of those who can no longer contain their contempt for the status quo, or the “system.” Some call it “raging against the machine” -- society as it is known is inherently flawed and something dramatically must be done about it. There are those people, and then there are the smartasses who poke fun more than poke the sleeping bear.

Ben Folds has consistently been one of the more “angry” artists in the popular music scene, railing against the suburbs, that bitch who broke up with him, societies inadequacies’…the list goes on. But that anger was diluted through the quips and the crude language Folds would trot out. One got the sense he was really trying to make a serious point, but through a humorous lens. As the years have progressed, his approach has made a shift towards a more mature sound and approach.

Rockin’ The Suburbs my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and Songs For Silverman were records that seemed to signal a new Ben Folds was approaching, one willing to take more chances and broaden his sound. Way To Normal is not quite a step back, but there is really no progress made in that new direction.

As Folds approaches his forties, it is only natural to expect the so-called “edge” that once was an effective weapon become blunted. There is nothing on Way To Normal that he has not done, and done better. Discussing a relationship through an incredibly skewed viewpoint filled with profanity (“Bitch Went Nuts”)? Check. Harpooning the vapidity of modern culture and current events (“Cologne,” “Free Coffee”?) Check.  What carries Way To Normal through its poor material is the incredibly melodic gifts that Folds has been bestowed with.

As long as Folds touches finger to ivory, his fans need not worry that there will come some hook that will wake you up at three in the morning. At this point in his career, Folds is too smart to ignore what brought his fame and stature. The opening track “Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)” is a brilliant, intentional channeling of Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets,” right down to the fake crowd. Given how much John has inspired Folds, it only seems fitting.

“You Don’t Know Me” actually marks some progressive thinking on the part of Folds; the duet with Regina Spektor is a chance for someone not named Ben Folds to give a little perspective on life. The distorted electronic strings come in and go out before they have a chance to intrude too much, leaving the focus on the back and forth between Folds and Spektor. I would love to hear more collaborations from Folds in this vein.

It is not that Ben Folds has lost his gift for making music. That will never disappear. What can eventually erode over time is inspiration and ingenuity. That desire to make it big and break through to the top only works once. After that, only the artists can tell if they have the stomach for continuing the fight. Way To Normal is by far his least inspired work, never achieving more than occasional success. If Folds wishes to sit on his laurels for the rest of his career, he has every right to do so. For my part, I want more.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.