Ben Folds - Way to Normal

Ben Folds was once a member of one of my favorite bands of all-time. The group Ben Folds Five hit the alternative music scene in the mid-90's. Their "nerdy" music was catchy, and Ben Folds was a wizard on the piano.
I saw the band in concert multiple times, and absolutely loved everything they released. I also play the piano, and would play songs from the album while imagining myself on the stage being worshiped by thousands of fans. Yes...I imagined myself playing piano in front of people. Did I mention that I did not get my first pubic hair until 9th grade, and I love Sudoku? I'm the pinnacle of cool.

Alas, the band eventually broke up.

Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge faded away into obscurity, but Ben Folds kept cranking out solo albums.
His first attempt on a solo release was "Rockin the Suburbs" in which he played every instrument. This album marked the descent of my Ben Folds fandom. His songs seemed directed towards making the top 10 list of elevator music and wedding play lists nationwide. Major disappointment.
His second full solo album "Songs for Silverman" was mostly forgettable.

This leads us to his newest full musical studio album "Way to Normal."

A positive is the Parental Advisory for the disc. This will hopefully keep Mothers of 5 kids from purchasing the disc in order to find the perfect song to dedicate to their spouse for their 15th wedding anniversary.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty of the songs. The entire album is piano-centric with the tell-tale Bass/Drum combo. Some of the songs have other instruments and studio mixing, but it is fairly minimal.

Unfortunately, the album starts off on a bad note. The first song is called Hiroshima, and documents an experience that Ben had where he bashed his head at a concert in the Far East. It's not great, and I don't want a live song on a non-live album.

We can break all the songs into 3 major categories:

OK Songs. They are decent, but won't stick with you for any particular reason. In fact I have no description of them because they're pretty much forgettable:
Hiroshima, Dr. yang, Before Cologne (instrumental), Bitch went nuts, Brainwascht, Kylie from Connecticut.

Great Songs. These are the cream of the crop on the album.
The Frown Song--Patented Ben Folds. Slow hooks leading into a catchy refrain. Such a somber song to throw the F-word around in.
You don't know me--Probably the song to get the most radio playtime. It's very catchy, but a little too much post-studio mixing for my taste.
Cologne--A decent ballad with perhaps the worst "outro" in the history of music. I haven't been this disgusted with a spoken word segment since "OK computer" by Radiohead.
Free Coffee--Ben throws some new piano sounds into this great song with boring lyrics.
Effington--This is my favorite piano work on the entire album. I probably wouldn't play this in front of my Grandparents though.

Terrible songs. You'll forward through these every time:
Errant Dog--A song about an errant dog. It's so bad.

If you're a die-hard Ben Folds fan, then you've listened to this album over 2 thousand times, and know all the words. You'd even buy an audio album of him sleeping. This review is not for you.

If you have no idea who Ben Folds is, I do not suggest this album. It will be hit or miss on whether you like it or not.
This is a sing along album, but you won't be cranking it up on your custom stereo at stoplights. Think a talented Rufus Wainwright with a better voice.

Me....?? I'm in the middle. I liked it, and will listen to select songs from the album on my mp3 player.
I'm so in the middle that I give it a middle of the road 3 stars out of 5.

It's a far cry from a live show of Ben Folds Five in front of a couple hundred fans in a small club. The dude's fingers could move faster than a monkey with a self-pleasure button. It was awesome.


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