Song of the Day #546: ‘Fair’ – Ben Folds Five

If I had to name a modern heir to Randy Newman, I’d go with Ben Folds. Folds has a similar gift for storytelling, irony and humor and he’s able to pull off the smart-ass and the sincere with pretty much equal success. He’s not quite up to Newman’s caliber as a satirist — yet — but he’s in the same ballpark.

Musically, Folds is even more adventurous than Newman, finding inventive ways to make familiar instruments sound brand new. Ben Folds Five used a simple lineup of piano, bass and drums to produce some of the most exciting pop music of the 90s without ever really getting the credit they deserved.

‘Fair’ is a great example of both Folds’ sonic experimentation and his gift for spinning great yarns. Musically, this is an exhilarating song, the jaunty piano and bass guiding you expectantly through the verses until the drums kick in at the chorus and the whole thing explodes into a blur of ‘ba ba ba’s. Lyrically, though, it’s pretty downbeat, recounting tales of hard luck and heartbreak.

And the repeated line during the song’s bridge is a nice metaphor for the stifling experience of romantic complication: “All this breathing in… never breathing out.”

Well, he shouted out his last word
And he stumbled through the yard
And she shattered her last china plate
And spun off in the car
When he lunged onto the hood
She stopped to tell him she’d been wrong
He was thrown head over heels
Into the traffic coming on

But then
All is fair
All is fair in love

Did you get my other letters
Sometimes I think I oughta call
Cause you know I often
Wonder if you open them at all
Every couple nights or so
You know you pop into my dreams
I just can’t get rid of you
Like you got rid of me
Oh but I send my best
Cause God knows you’ve seen my worst

Yeah well
All is fair
All is fair in love

All this breathing in, never breathing out

Well I guess she made her way
Through the mob too late to hear him say
That he’d gotten all he wanted
A crowd to watch him bear the pain
He’d been keeping in
(So what) So what

But then
All is fair
All is fair in love

Am I right?
Am I right?
Not only am I right
I’m lonely and I’m right

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #546: ‘Fair’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Amy says:

    Hmmm… while I never thought of the song this way before, just now it seemed that everything leading up to the ba ba ba’s – musically speaking – is the “breathing in,” which thankfully does finally allow for the necessary exhale of those wonderful ba ba ba’s.

    I love how ordinary Ben Folds comes across when he talks about his music. He seems to have a dash of the inventor in him, a whole lot of music fan, and a whole lot of fine musician – the combination makes for not only a man capable of making interesting and delightful music but also one you actually would want to spend time with. I do agree that he and Randy Newman are similar in that respect.

  2. dana says:

    As I recall, this was the song that first introduced me to Ben Folds. And what an introduction it was. I was instantly hooked. This was fresh, innovative and yet somehow classic all at once.

    I have loved many a Ben Folds song since, but I hold a special place in my heart for this one.

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