[image-4]Published October 16, 2008.
Way to Normal
For his first true LP since 2005's Songs for Silverman---2006's Supersunnyspeedgraphic was a compilation of previously released EPs and singles---Ben Folds has cracked his style wide open. The piano's still central, as are the swears and wit, but sonically he and producer Dennis Herring have packed Way to Normal with synth, strings and pure noise that stray from his typical formula into Postal Service-style indie pop ("Free Coffee"), drum-machine dance ("Brainwascht") and balls-out rock (most else). It's no wonder he opens with a screaming crowd behind "Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head)"---the true story of Folds falling down on stage in Japan and sustaining a head injury, set to the piano riff from "Bennie and the Jets." Note also the titular nod---he's finally accepted the endless Elton John comparisons. He got divorced between records, but the only real evidence is "Cologne," a ballad that turns moving on into a countdown. A missed opportunity comes in the form of a Regina Spektor appearance on "You Don't Know Me"---it's less a duet than a backing vocal---too bad since Spektor shares Folds' lyrical bent and piano prowess, which is probably why she's here at all. Way to Normaldoesn't work as a whole, but the great parts are worth searching for, like the choral part on "Effington"---"If there's a god/he's laughing at us/and our football team."