Way To Normal – Ben Folds

Label: Epic

So, where’s the old guy then?  Ben Folds is in his forties now and, hell, he was barely a day younger when he started banging out his AOR piano brouhahas 15 years ago. You’d have forgiven him a slide into sub-Elton mawkishness by now, it probably would have even suited him. And who knows, had his love life not suffered a spinal collapse recently that is what we could be reviewing here. But it did, and he’s hardly been off record about that. ‘Errant Dog’ still tips a hat to that influence though and indeed with the Regina Spektor featuring ‘You Don’t Know Me’s slightly errant ELO-ness this is hardly cutting edge stuff, but it always comes as a bit of a surprise to see quite how much fun he’s having – presumably this time as catharsis – and how hair-on-end infectious that can be.

It pulls him through where equally square-peg peers Weezer and Eels only intermittently see fit to communicate past their straight-faced brand of dry humour. That’s hammered home on the opening double here; ‘Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hits His Head)’ with epic key pounding, arena-building “whooo-ho”-ing, piped-in crowd delirium and expensive strings sounds like he might be vying for his own make-up-free version of the Kiss live albums, and ‘Dr Yang’ with a runaway night-train bass-line belting everything else out of the way and recalling high-production Green Day, around the time they stopped solely being oiks. And for fans of his subversive dead-pan curse-laden cover of Dr Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’, the submissive dead-pan curse-laden ‘Bitch Went Nuts’ should do just fine. 

Folds remains more or less in your face for the majority of ‘Way To Normal’, like a kid with ADHD, medicated solely with Billy Joel records and divorce proceedings papers (to which this album is thematically bound) – he does nothing new per se, but this just feels that much more sustained, hyper and involved. If he can’t be young at heart, for all the baggage, his fingers at least tell a different tale.

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Release: Ben Folds - Way To Normal
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Released: 06 October 2008