Songs for Silverman
Ben Folds has travelled under the proverbial radar for 15 years and a half-dozen records; like the best character actors, he's never been big enough to be a star or a cult artist. Those who adore him do it with slobbering devotion, the rest sing along to "Brick" when it comes on classic alternative radio once every other month. But Folds is one of the premiere songwriters of his generation, and it could be the piano—an instrument associated with old sop-meisters like Billy Joel and Elton John, and newer nap-inducers like Diana Krall and Norah Jones—that's holding him back. But it's more likely that his style of straight-ahead jaunty pop has never been hip, never easily slottable into the various horrors of style revivals. Rockin' the Suburbs, his first solo album, was percussion- and guitar-driven. Songs for Silverman brings the piano back to centre stage. It's also more personal; Folds' songs often play like short stories that he's narrating. There's some of that here: the stellar lead track, "Bastard," is a free pass to blowhards ("Why you gotta act like you know if you don't know? It's OK if you don't know") while "Jesusland" juxtaposes faith with consumerism. But most of it appears to reflect his life, as he sings to his wife ("You to Thank," about a rough relationship patch), his daughter ("Gracie," a gorgeous composition that borders on lullaby) and his friend Elliott Smith ("Late," on which Folds abandons wit for straight-up sentiment: "The songs you wrote/Got me through a lot/Just wanna tell you that"). You could find something cooler, but you're not going to find much better.