Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy - #6 Ben Folds




Bet you thought I'd forgotten about the foolish pledge I made back in January. Well. I'm afraid you're wrong. Here, about a month and a half later than scheduled, is the sixth installment of the (quite lidderally) Herculean task I set myself at the beginning of the year, to expose y'all to some of the sections of my collection which don't seem to get much exposure in these parts or over on the Mothership.

The whole series got off to a flying start with some enormously gratifying (not to say, elucidating [I told you not to say that. Ed.]) debate on the nature of pop music: what exactly is pop music, what isn't it and what qualities define what we call 'Pop Music' - which we ARE NOT GOING TO REVISIT! OK???

The debate continued with the controversial choice of Coldplay but the last two editions have raised barely a mumble as first Steely Dan and then Aztec Camera have been rejected either as MOR in the former case or as not even worth rejecting in the latter. Well, I ask you ...

Hopefully, my latest choice will get people talking a bit more. I was surprised to find (courtesy of the magnificent Marconium) that Ben Folds has only featured once on the A-List, putting him alongside such luminaries as Bette Midler and The Spice Girls and two behind Britney Spears. Without wishing to buke the works of everyone's favourite former Disney starlet, surely that can't be right??!! I suspect that there have been some B-Listings as well, one of which (The Luckiest) I was responsible for myself but this still ain't enough, d'ye hear? We need more Ben Folds in Readers Recommend and we need it now.

So , to that end, may I present to you the wonderful, the one and only, Mr Ben Folds (with and without his Five (who were actually only Two (or Three if you include him))). As always, I'll let the music speak for itself but I just want to mention a couple of highlights.

Song For The Dumped has been nominated on RR for a number of topics over the years - it's about a really, REALLY bad breakup and features the line, 'Give me my money back, you bitch'. What's not to like?

Late is a hauntingly beautiful song written by Ben Folds after the death of his fellow singer-songwriter, musician and good friend, Elliott Smith. There's a great line it where he says, 'Elliott man you played a mean guitar, and some dirty basketball'. I remember listening to the song when I realised what it was about and having a good greet (as my Granny would have said).

Boxing is one of the loveliest songs I know. If I liked boxing I would ask to have it played at my funeral.

Oh, and if you buy only one Ben Folds album, let it be Songs For Silverman.

Here's some music ...

Song For The Dumped

Army
Uncle Walter
Satan Is My Master
Alice Childress
Late
Landed
Carrying Cathy
Hospital Song
The Luckiest
Brainwascht
Boxing

... and here are some links:

Official site
Wikipedia
Fan club
Last.fm

39 comments:

ToffeeBoy said...

Anyone know why boxstr isn't working? Don't make me go back to Podbean - please!

Abahachi said...

The Spice Girls have made the list only once? TRAVESTY! Will listen to this when I've calmed down a bit.

Shoey said...

Don't think I would have listened to & enjoyed Ben Folds without Toffee prompting - so thanks for that.

Blimpy said...

i have always found ben folds to be annoying and poo, however this view was formed when i was a teenager, so i will now listen with open ears....

Blimpy said...

4 songs in, and i'm still kinda struggling with the whole show-tunes / lounge piano vibe...

Blimpy said...

Now "Late" is really good, I think I much prefer Folds when he's not being funny.

Blimpy said...

8 songs has shown to be the limit - i now have a new opinion on Ben Folds! Cheers Toffeeboy, that was fun!

Japanther said...

I know a few Ben Folds tunes, but i've never been a fan and haven't listened too closely, so I will give these a go (am downloading now to be ready for the morning).

The only Ben Folds song I remember was the B-side to a CD single I had called "For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fanny Packs", a Beastie Boys parody type thing. This was my first exposure to this particular Americanism and I couldn't believe my ears!!

tincanman said...

I'm going to have to let the video fade before I listen to the other tunes. He's so clean cut - I kept looking for Ralph and Potsie. Who performs in Primark clothes?

I will listen 'cause he's obviously talented and if you like him so much there must be something there, but I'm warning you - tell your fella to shave half his head, get a tattoo and get the fuck out of the malt shop.

Abahachi said...

Not at all my sort of thing, but fun in small doses. Reminded me a bit of a less ostentatiously wacky They Might Be Giants. Can't think of any reason why this shouldn't be thought of as pop, even for the sake of getting an argument going...

B-Mac said...

@Aba - pop if you're american I think, rather than pop if you're culturally weighed towards the yooooKAY. Does that make any sense?

ejaydee said...

That makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, the one semi-formed relevant thought I had about this whole pop thing is the difference between how the UK and the US view pop.

steenbeck said...

What is the difference between the us and uk view of pop?

ejaydee said...

OK so my thought isn't formed yet, but I think.... shoot, I lost it. I think the term is more selectively used in the US, or maybe it's the fact that "rock" seems to be more widely used to music that would be called "pop" in the Uk. Which actually goes against what Blimpy was saying.
See, that's what happens when I don't go straight to the point.

nilpferd said...

Not sure if you really want to hear this, but I'm in a crabby mood tonight and I've just given AOTW the thumbs down, so here goes..
The piano-playing is florid and too lushly produced for my tastes, like Tori Amos or Diane Krall- however they can at least play the instrument well, here it is simply too static- the same riffs are played over and over. The drumming is frenetic but also too static for my tastes. Add a (for my ears) thin, melodically true but characterless voice, and the combination is not one destined for the Nilpferd shelves.

ejaydee said...

How about this:
Jackson 5-I Want You Back:
UK=POP
US=SOUL/R&B
Does that make sense? Is it even true?

ToffeeBoy said...

Thanks for all the comments which I'll respond to when I have the time to do them justice.

Just one thought for now. No one has mentioned the lyrics. To me, the lyrics are the most important thing about Ben Folds ...

steenbeck said...

Funny, I was just going to mention the lyrics. We have one album--SOngs for Silverman. I don't listen to it very often, so I feel odd about nominating songs on RR, even when they seem a perfect fit (hospital song). BUt I've always appreciated their intelligence and humor. I used to work with a woman who thought that they were the best thing ever, and you know how that warps your perspective of something. On the one hand you pay more attention, on the other, you're more critical.

Ejay--I think I know what you mean about "pop" but it's sort of a strange idea to get your mind around. As I've mentioned before, I think of 'Pop' as being more of an adjective that can be applied to all different genres of music--and I had a Michael Jackson example all cued up but can't remember it now. It's a cross-genre label. But I think that idea didn't go down too well with the 'Spill crowd, so I'll just hush about it now.

Nilpferd--isn't it funny how when you're cranky, when something doesn't sound right it sounds sooooo wrong, and when you find something that sounds right that's all you can listen to? (For me at least)

nilpferd said...

Very true, steen. I did try to restrain myself.. who knows though, on another night I might have found a way in, same with Gareths AOTW. Not tonight, though.
Off to sleep on it and dream of Tony Allen grooves.

Japanther said...

i'm afraid i'm going to have to join the dissenters...sort of...I basically agree with Blimpy, the "funny" stuff with that jaunty piano playing and smug "i'm-so-clever-aren't-I" lyrics rubbed me up the wrong way. But "Late" was genuinely moving and a great song.

Re: US idea of pop Vs UK idea of pop. That's an interesting point. I think, and I may be totally wrong, that due to the UK's small size and lack of channel choice, that what Americans would consider "alternative" music gets daytime Radio 1 airtime in the UK and thus moves quickly from being "underground indie-electro" or whatever to just being pop music., as in "popular" and generally acceptable to the mainstream.

I'm always surprised when I go back home and hear bands that I thought were super-indie and not well known at all being played on the radio.

Abahachi said...

I don't know nearly enough about the way things work in the US to comment sensibly, but that's never stopped me before... My impression from what people have said above is that 'pop' in the US is generally defined by institutions, especially media companies, in contrast to the UK situation where there's more power given to the listener; and that in the US, because of economic factors (many more specialised media outlets, each one trying to seize market share by emphasising a clearly defined identity), there's much more demarcation between genres. So, we're happy to think of indie-pop or pop r'n'b or whatever all the time, whereas 'crossover' hits (and again this seems to be defined not by listeners' reactions but by company decisions as to where a particular record gets played) are a really big thing over there.

ToffeeBoy said...

Thanks for all the comments. I must say I'm rather surprised (and a bit disappointed) at the general thumbs-down-ness.

A few thoughts (neatly side-stepping the whole UK/US idea of pop thing which I've chose not to have an opinion on):

@ tincanman - anything wrong with 'clean cut'? Remember, the alternative might be Pete Doherty. Perhaps there's a happy medium, but let's leave Doris Stokes out of this ...

@ nilpferd - feel free to be as crabby as you like - let's just agree to disagree on this one, shall we?

@ steenbeck "their intelligence and humor". Exactly! Can no one else see/hear that?

@ japanther - smug? really? "i'm-so-clever-aren't-I" lyrics"?

I think it's a bit unfair to accuse someone of being clever and demonstrating it in their art. That Shakespeare bloke was a bit pleased with himself, wasn't he? Don't we want intelligence and humour in our music. I know I do.

Anyway, thanks for sharing ...

ToffeeBoy said...

chosen

ejaydee said...

I liked Aba and Japa's points about the UK vs US thing. the "crossover", as far as I'm aware doesn't exist in the UK.

About Ben Folds, I haven't paid that much attention to the lyrics, it always takes me a good amount of listening, which I realise is partly the point of Mr Folds, but musically I struggled with Army and Uncle Walter, but I'd be more inclined to listen to the midtempo and slower ones like Late or Alice Childress or Hospital Song a few more times. I did think their cover of B*tches Ain't Sh*t was funny. There's something about his/their sound that says 70's/american radio/showtunes, which is not the easiest thing for me to get into, by that I mean it's very dependent on my mood. If I were him I'd get a different producer. More songs that sound like the verse in Brainwascht would suit him, but the melody in the chorus falls into the same American clich├ęs, in my opinion.

Abahachi said...

Okay, if the alternative is Pete Doherty you can sign me up to Coldplay as well. But I think that's a very unfair line of argument.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Aba - worryingly, my 14 year old daughter is obsessed with Pete Doherty ...

barbryn said...

I've never given Ben Folds much attention, though he's often turned up on my Last FM radio. Enjoyed this selection - engaging lyrics, though the music could do with a few more surprises.

I much prefer him when he's being serious. Late is unquestionably great, and on Boxing and The Luckiest he's veering into Rufus Wainwright territory (which is fine with me). I don't know if this playlist is in chronological order, but I'd hazard a guess I'd prefer his later stuff.

DarceysDad said...

Evening, ToffeeBoy.

To pinch the overused phrase that's currently getting an airing over on the mothership:

I can't believe I've read this far and no-one's mentioned . . .

Randy Newman.

I dunno, maybe it's just me. I own no Ben Folds albums at all, because I've always found his voice irritating. I don't have a justification or rationale for that, btw, it just is. So it's fair to say that this is the most BF tunes I've ever heard in one go. And the over-riding thought is that Ben aspires to Randy Newman's crown as piano-playing "entertainer", capable of a range from acerbic to tender, via all points political (small 'p') and humorous.

My verdict? He can do it, but will he? Whew, big ask! It'll take years (decades?) and much better product placement for his reputation to make the transistion from lightweight, collegiate smartarse to mature, credible heavyhitter. Late is indeed lovely, and The Luckiest is even better, imo. Song For The Dumped certainly hits its target, but - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - Ben will need to have the same impact without recourse to swearing if he wants the Tonight Show, Hollywood Bowl, or the Oscars Ceremony to knock on his door bearing invitations into millions of homes.

A bit of judicious websearching would indicate DreamWorks already like and trust him, so no doubt I will hear more from Mr.Folds. I'm looking forward to that more now than I was an hour ago, ToffeeBoy. Is that enough for you to file my card in the thumbs-up pile? Don't ask me, I don't know.

And my final thought? Not 'pop'.

Japanther said...

@Toffeeboy

Fair point, and I could have worded it better.

i'm not against a clever turn-of-phrase and of course wish there was more intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics in music in general.

Maybe it's just the way the lyrics are presented that seem to me to have the "see-what-I-did-there" wink of the self-appointed office joker .......but maybe i'm just a grouchy old bugger!

Mind you, i'm the bloke who nominated Chris TT's "Eminem Is Gay" for RR a couple of weeks ago, so I'm not one to talk about trying to be funny arch indie-pop!!

Japanther said...

..not to suggest that Ben Folds is a novelty in the same vein as that tune of course

ToffeeBoy said...

@ barbryn - thanks for the comments. The songs aren't in chronological order and, interestingly, I decided to include some of the more 'off-the-wall', rocky (wacky?) numbers because I didn't want to portray Ben Folds as too po-faced. I could have included many others of the Late/Boxing ilk (one particular song, Gracie, should be listened to by anyone who has ever been lucky enough to be the parent of a young child) but didn't want it to come across as too one dimensional.

@ DsD - I think the Randy Newman comparison is pretty good - particularly given the film soundtrack connection.

The annoying voice thing is something that always intrigues me - how one man's Pavarotti is another woman's ... well ... Pavarotti. If you know what I mean. Personally, I love Ben Fold's voice - I think it has that perfect mix of honesty and vulnerability - weak yet strong, as it were. We could start a whole new thread about voices that people find annoying. Mr 'Pardon My Whining' Dylan would be number one on my hit list - but I know that many of you love the man.

@ Japanther - nice reply - thanks for that. I'm sure you're not a grouchy old bugger - at least no more than then rest of us - but I've never felt that Ben Folds was doing anything more than setting out to entertain us in a very honest way. That's how I see it anyway.

DarceysDad said...

Bloody Hell, ToffeeBoy!

We actually agreed twice in one thread (it's well-documented that I'm with your stance on Bob Dylan)!!!

Cheers, that man.

:o)

TracyK said...

I really didn't like Ben Folds till Jon (hated Underground something rotten)and I saw him before we were officially 'going out', supporting the Divine Comedy. Live, something special happens. I don't know whether the music is more engaging live, or that he is very charismatic and makes a connection. Army was one of Jon's failsafe karaoke songs in Japan and you know about us and The Luckiest, but songs like Brick and Fred Jones prove that he's not as facile as you might assume on a cursory listening.

The connection we make is Billy Joel, who we both really like too, so maybe we just like the hokey piano schtick.

snadfrod said...

I know this is a bit late but I am, as you probably know Mr Toffee, a massive Ben Folds fan. I too was a bit surprised about how negative some of the reactions were above, but I can't thank you enough for trying to convince.

For me the last album was a bit overcooked and a bit of a lyrical misstep (Cologne and Effington excepted), but he has been terrifically consistent for a long time now. The blend of the quote zany unquote and the heartfelt is one I love and there are many other songs that could easily have graced that excellent list. I would add, off the top of my head,

Magic
Mess
Not the Same (esp. the live version)
Lullabye
One Down
There's Always Someone Cooler than You
Bruised
and The Last Polka.

But, basically, he rules. Live, especially. Cheers Toff.

ToffeeBoy said...

Oh, great snadfrod! Turn up when all the fighting's stopped and I'm lying here, battered and bruised, having fought the good fight, with NO SUPPORT FROM YOU WHATSOEVER! Yeah, this is a fine time to pop your head round the corner and whisper, 'oh, by the way, I think he's really good, too!' Thanks for nothing pal ...

;o)

Do you know if he's planning another UK tour? I missed him last time around.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ TracyK - oops, nearly didn't notice your post. The Luckiest is one damn fine tune and worthy of being anyone's 'song'.

snadfrod said...

Um, yeah. Sorry Toffee. I think I could have been of a bit of help, there. But I was away sir, honest. Plus, I had a look at the harmless looking Shoey thread about surveillance songs last night. Talk about a REAL brawl...

Anyway, I am here now and stand proudly with your bloodied army, my own uniform only partly muddied and my skin nicely suntanned.

Not sure if there is a tour planned at present (when one is, we should maybe meet up?), but there are two interesting projects at the moment:

- University A Capella is an album Folds has put together featuring various US college a capella groups doing covers of his songs.

- Stems and Seeds, a new remixed version of Way To Normal which also features the original song stems that can be remixed on people's computers AND (with a nice nod to the 'zany' issue expressed by many above) the hyperactive, bonkers version of the album that Ben deliberately leaked onto the net prior to the release of the album proper. I've not heard it, but its supposed to be, in some ways, better.

A collector's only piece, maybe, but an interesting one nonetheless...
http://www.benfolds.com/acappella

snadfrod said...

Sorry, forgot the link for Stems and Seeds:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001P4OADI?ie=UTF8&tag=epicrecords-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B001P4OADI

ToffeeBoy said...

@ snad - excellent! Thanks for the links - I'll check them out later. Off out to brother's 50th birthday bash.

I agree about the last album - hasn't ever really gripped me like the previous ones did - so I'll be fascinated to hear an alternative version.

We'll keep an eye out for UK dates then ...