Song of the Day #215: ‘Selfless, Cold, and Composed’ – Ben Folds Five

whateverWhile Ben Folds Five’s debut album is a seemingly impossible act to follow, the band’s second CD Wherever and Ever Amen was absolutely up to the task. Folds expanded his palette, making use of strings, horns and studio trickery to produce a stunning collection of songs. It would be a struggle to find another artist or band whose first two albums are as satisfying as these.

As with Ben Folds Five, it is hard to choose a song to highlight from Whatever and Ever Amen. From the hard-rocking opening track ‘One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces’ (incidentally, the only song in my catalog of over 8,000 that contains the word “dwarf”) to the delicate closer, ‘Evaporated,’ all of these songs are worthy of the spotlight.

But the album’s centerpiece track, ‘Selfless, Cold, and Composed,’ was in some ways an easy choice for me today. It’s the song that first highlighted exactly how grand Folds’ ambitions were. It’s epic in structure, blending a gorgeous jazzy feel with an almost cinematic use of strings. The musicianship of this track just blows me away… listen to the bass line during the choruses, the shuffling drums that almost subliminally propel the song before kicking into high gear in the bridge, and of course Folds’ intricate piano work.

Lyrically, it’s also a work of art, exploring what feels like new territory in a breakup song… the unease you feel when the person you’ve dumped just doesn’t seem to care all that much. I particularly love the play of words in this line: “But you just smile like a bank teller blankly telling me ‘have a nice life’.”

I said what you wanted to hear and what I wanted to say
So I will take it back
Are all the dishes intact?
Let them be broken, broken

It’s easy to be easy and free
When it doesn’t mean anything
You remain selfless, cold and composed

You’ve done me no favor to call and be nice
Telling me I can take anything I like
You don’t owe me to be so polite
You’ve done no wrong
You’ve done no wrong
Get out of my sight

Come on baby now throw me a right to the chin
Don’t just stare like you never cared
I know you did
But you just smile like a bank teller
Blankly telling me ‘have a nice life’

Come on baby now throw me a right to the chin
Just one sign that could show me
That you give a shit
But you just smile politely
And I grow weaker and
I said what you wanted to hear and what I wanted to say
So I will take it back

14 thoughts on “Song of the Day #215: ‘Selfless, Cold, and Composed’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    A fabulous song on a great album. Your analysis is spot on, so I will just say “ditto.”

  2. Clay says:

    Dana and I are in complete agreement… time to shut down the blog!

  3. Amy says:

    In order to keep the blog alive, I’ll simply say that I hate this song. In fact, these past two days have caused me to doubt my appreciation of Ben Folds Five. What’s so special about them/him? I don’t get it. Gracie is a special song, but the rest – in the word of my students – meh.

  4. Clay says:

    Admirable attempt…

  5. Amy says:

    What attempt? Dana and I battled for most of dinner, as he is quite perturbed that I have declared Ben Folds overrated.

  6. Clay says:

    Sorry, I’m not buying it. I might buy it if today’s song was ‘Julianne’ or something from Way to Normal, but ‘Selfless, Cold, and Composed’ is not going to push somebody toward “overrated” … not gonna happen.

  7. Alex says:

    I find this song boring. I was with you yesterday. I love that song more than I can say. But I’ll start with Alice Childress and put this one in the same category – boring! Now if you had picked One Angry Dwarf, I might be more on your side. I think I stopped listening to Ben Folds after this album. Maybe overrated is a little harsh, but I certainly lost interest. And don’t get me started on that boxing song, bleh!

  8. Clay says:

    Ignorant woman!

  9. Alex says:

    Hey buddy, I’ll stop commenting on this blog thing if I’m going to be insulted. I already get that in person. Actually, your little blog has inspired me to download that first album onto my Apple. Thank you.

  10. Clay says:

    Glad to hear it… it’ll class that little machine up.

  11. Dana says:

    Boy, I see that the ONE time I whole-heartedly agree with Clay, total chaos and anarchy breaks out on this blog! We have Amy feeling she has to play the antagonistic devil’s advocate and Alex coming out of the cyber blog closet to join in.on the pile on.

    Look– let me just say that Selfless, Cold and Composed is a truly wonderful song–musically, lyrically…the total package. That’s not opnion. That’s fact:) Now, is it my favorite song on the album? Not sure, but it’s up there along with Dwarf and Fair. Bick is also outstanding and poweful, of course. Then you got your Steven’s Last Night and Battle of Who Could Care Less. Oh hell, the whole damn album is great. In fact, I personally like it better than the 1st album, but only by a bit. So, there’s my disagreement with Clay! Happy?

    In closing, I promise never to fully agree with Clay again so that the order of the blog universe can be restored:)

  12. Clay says:

    I’d rank ‘Missing the War’ and ‘Evaporated’ right up there with all the ones you named.

    It’s really a close call between the two albums. I give the nod to the debut album because a) ‘Smoke’ and ‘Cigarette’ (on Whatever), while very good, aren’t quite as good as the songs around them; and because I love the raw, improvisational feel of the first album… it sounds as if it’s being performed live.

    But both are among the very best albums I own.

  13. Dana says:

    FOr me, it might go back to the introduction point theory. For some reason, I seem to have heard the 2nd album first in time and fell immediately in love with it. And I’m fine with Smoke and Cigarette, though I agree they may be the weakest of the bunch. And, yes, Missing the War is wonderful as well.

  14. Amy says:

    While Ben Folds is mightily overrated, Alice Childress is NOT a boring song!

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