Ben Folds: Genius Or Schtickmeister?

Sep 29th, 2008 // 7 Comments

Our look at the closing lines of the biggest new-music reviews continues with a roundup of reactions to Way To Normal, the new album by ivory-tinkling ironist and Nick Hornby collaborator Ben Folds:

• “Maybe the tumble in Japan jarred something loose in Folds’ fecund brain. This is the first album where his artistry seems fully realized, both in terms of subject matter and performance. Witty, balanced and highly charged.” [Paste]

• “It would be fitting if Folds never found his way to normal; if this littlest hobo continued to produce his peculiarly open, often majestic and occasionally transcendental brand of potent piano pop–songs which give a particular personal take on the universal truths about lost love we can all relate to. Folds proves that, sometimes, the gamble you take on saying too much can pay off.” [Drowned In Sound]

• “And Folds still drips disdain for everyone and everything around him: Connecticut adulteresses, online psychics, New Age-y suburbanites who are ‘fucking the guru,’ and a dozen other easy targets. If he’s not careful, he’ll become one himself.” [RS]

• ” Even Folds’s knack for a well-placed f-bomb has devolved into a lazy device masquerading as irreverence. His attitude may remain young at heart, but his irony’s over the hill.” [Boston Phoenix]


  1. Anonymous

    This guy is such a dickhead. I could die happy if I knew he would never go near another piano or mug for another camera ever again.

  2. revmatty

    Ben Folds is teh awesome. Glad to see him back with the Five (at least intermittently).

  3. Audif Jackson Winters III

    My parents were legitimately horrified by Folds’ version of an NWA track (“Bitches Ain’t Shit”, I think?) when they saw him open for my mom’s favorite under 40 artist, John Mayer.

    So, in response to the question posed by the post title: comedy piano rock.

  4. ObtuseIntolerant

    @revmatty: What you said!

  5. Chris Molanphy

    About 12 years after I became a Folds fan — he’s about the whitest/squarest act I unabashedly love — I don’t know how to answer this post’s title dilemma.

    He can be insufferable when he gets too smug (cf. “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” “Song for the Dumped”), and I generally find his earnest stuff more moving.

    OTOH, he can be needlessly downcast and self-absorbed, as on about half of Reinhold Messner and virtually all of his ’05 album, which was his most serious and the one I played least.

    I dunno, it’s a careful balance: what makes “Battle of Who Could Care Less” or “Best Imitation of Myself” so great is the combination of deeply-felt melodies and sardonic, but not nasty, lyrics. He pulled this off repeatedly on the first two (BFF) albums but has only intermittently done so since. Still, his shows are a blast.

  6. Chris Molanphy

    P.S. Long story short, of the above reviews, Jody’s two-and-a-half-star at Rolling Stone seems closest to being right.

  7. tinylush

    this might be biased.. because being from nashville.. and basically growing up where he lives.. ive been a ben folds since middle school.. he is just one of those essential “shit.. son ive been listening to that since i was 12″ bands.

    ben is great at being what he started out as which is being a upper middle class white kid singing songs about mediocre events. but im still a sucker for his voice and every time i hear “smile… like youve got nothing to lose..” from someones always cooler than you.. i cant help but sing along.

    i will admit that i wasnt impressed by the new album. but its definitely classic ben folds… so anyone that loves him.. will like it. even if they say they dont.

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