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Way To Normal
Artist: Ben Folds
Time: 12 Tracks 40:24
I have never fully been able to figure out how Ben Folds writes the songs he writes. He doesn’t seem to follow any patterns that many other songwriters follow. He can write a song that will have you splitting your gut in laughter at one point and then have you on the verge of tears at another. Sometimes this will literally happen in successive tracks. So with that in mind I picked up Folds’ latest release Way To Normal and found that this was an album that perfectly fits into that strange and wonderful mold I’ve listed above.
On this album we have some incredibly powerful ballads (“Kylie From Connecticut” and “Cologne”) some absolutely hilarious albeit a little profane rockers (“B**ch Went Nuts,” “Errant Dog”) and then several songs that convey somewhat serious messages while mixing in humor as well (“Effington” “Brainwacht,” and “You Don’t Know Me”).
The album opens with “Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)” which chronicles the true story of how Folds came out on stage one night during his tour through Japan and fell right off the stage and hit his head! He actually climbed back up on the stage and began playing before he saw blood falling on his keyboard in front of him. All of this is described in the song in typical Folds wit and style.
“You Don’t Know Me” is the first single and features Regina Spektor on background vocals. It is the tale of a married couple that after many years of marriage find themselves feeling like strangers to each other. It is a powerful song that reflects on the need for constant communication and time investment that is needed to keep a marriage strong.
Songs like “Errant Dog” (which features Folds writing a love song to his dog) and the strongly profane “B**ch Went Nuts (which recalls a girl who went crazy after the song’s protagonist breaks up with her and ‘stabbed my basketball and the speakers to my stereo”) are songs that call to mind the old days of Ben Folds Five songs like “Song for the Dumped.” In some ways I wish Folds would tone down the profanity and stick with more mature songs, but I must admit they are funny.
“Free Coffee” is the most innovative song on this collection. Folds explained during the recording sessions that he had produced the uniquely plinking piano sounds featured in this song by taping Altoids breath mint tins to his piano keys and playing the notes with the piano in that state. Let me say that this song is definitely worth a listen, because I doubt you will have ever heard anything like it before.
“Kylie From Connecticut” is the darkest song on the album in my opinion. Slipping back into the theme of failed marriages, this time Folds writes about a woman who has often suspected that her husband cheated on her for much of their married life, but never said anything about it. The character appears like an unfortunate victim during the first part of the song until Folds sings the line “her heart belongs to a man who she hasn’t seen since a magical night when the children were small.” It is then that you realize that it is a tragic tale about how both people have cheated on each other and in many ways faked it for so many years.
“The Frown Song” is what a call the emo anthem because of its mention of walking around with a ‘fashionable frown” all the time.
“Brainwacht” is a song that features Folds giving us some great advice on a wide array of topics including being noisy, forgiveness and having a firm foundation to build your life on. He even references the Bible as a source for some of these lessons!
“Cologne” is another one of the ballads on this project, and is a companion piece in many ways to “Kylie From Connecticut” only on this song it is more personal. Knowing that Folds wrote many of the songs for this project after his divorce from his wife makes this song all the more poignant. It is the tale of a man who is forced to live in a hotel and let the woman he still cares about go, while still longing to talk with her about current events and news stories, but realizing that he can’t because their relationship has changed. It is about the mourning process of a failed relationship and the repercussions that ensue afterwards.
However for another fun moment, Folds gives us “Effington” which is a song about desiring to move to a fictional town called Effington where the people who live there (Effing) are crazy but somehow intriguing to the song’s protagonist. This fellow in this story thinks about the positives of living in this town and becoming an Effing, but realizes that all he really wants to do is make his way back to Normal, Illinois, another fictitious town.
While the song itself is hilarious, I can’t help but feel that he has a veiled serious message here. After all don’t we all want to be normal? I think that while this isn’t as strong of a project as 2005’s Songs For Silverman it is still better than a lot of the albums that have been released this year. Take a trip through these songs and try to find your own “Way To Normal”