Songs for Silverman
It’s evident from the first verse of the first song on Songs for Silverman that Ben Folds has grown up. As the follow-up to Rockin’ the Suburbs in 2001, Silverman feels like a letter from an old friend who has been gone for several years and has come back with a few gray hairs. Nearly 40 and married with two children, Folds has some new things to think about, and this comes through in his lyrics. That’s certainly not to say that his lyrics were previously immature or juvenile, but there was often an element of tongue-in-cheek humor that pervaded many of his songs. He usually struck a balance between irreverent and meaningful, but that adolescent spunk is absent here. Younger listeners may be turned away, but older fans of Ben Folds may like it just fine.
While the band does have a few opportunities to really rock out together, on the whole it sounds quite reserved. The familiar rhythm section of piano, drums, and bass is still intact and mostly unchanged throughout the majority of the album; there is a cello here and a guitar there, but they are few and far between. Compared to the highly produced Suburbs, complete with synthesizers, electric guitars, and harmony abound, Silverman feels stripped down. This is no doubt intentional as a production decision, to reflect the more introspective nature of the album and let the songwriting take center stage, but as a result the album is a little more low-key than past offerings. This feeling is only furthered by Folds’ singing, which sometimes sounds tired and weary, instead of bursting out of the speakers with life.
In the first track, “Bastard,” Folds evokes the cynicism of an old man. Although the lyrics are entirely in the third person, it seems as though he is singing about himself. Marked by interesting meter changes, this song stands out as the longest and most varied of the album. Following this is “You to Thank,” which has great lyrics and an incredible jazzy piano solo at the bridge that will perk the ears of seasoned fans. Unfortunately, it lacks a strong, memorable chorus to complement Folds' piano mastery. He returns to the cynical theme later in the album in “Sentimental Guy.” The swaggering, swung rhythm and beautifully dissonant chords of the chorus are very charming, and this simple song manages to work.
“Landed,” released as a single in February, is a combination of the best of Folds’ talents at this stage in his life. The chords are beautiful, the melody is memorable, and the lyrics are touching; it’s one of the best tracks on the album. “Give Judy My Notice,” a candidate for another radio single, is a reworking of a song from Folds’ 2003 EP Speed Graphic, this time with drums, bass, and a bit of slide guitar. Unfortunately, this remake pales deeply in comparison to its predecessor and any fan of Ben Folds is strongly urged to listen to a copy of Speed Graphic to hear the song at its finest.
“Jesusland” is Folds at his sharpest as he takes shots at urban America. This isn’t a far cry lyrically from his live show favorite “All U Can Eat,” from the Sunny 16 EP, although here he addresses the subject with a bit more class.
More touching and meaningful than any other song on the album is “Late,” a tribute to the late singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. It gives “Landed” a run for its money as best song on the album.
Ben Folds has earned a reputation for making the music he wants to make when he wants to make it, and Songs for Silverman is certainly no exception. Eschewing past formulas for success, Folds has chosen to write songs about the things he cares about, not what he cared about ten years ago. Nothing on the album is actually anything less than good, but taken in the context of Ben Folds’ decade-long history, it’s hard to measure up.
Release date: April 26, 2005
Rating: 7.5 / 10
On the web: http://www.benfolds.com/
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