Best Albums of the 90s – #1
Ben Folds Five – Ben Folds Five (1995)
This pick will come as no surprise to regular readers of the blog. I’ve gone on record calling this my favorite album and even featured it in its entirety a year and a half ago.
In fact, I’ve had to cheat in order to post a song today. This recording of ‘Alice Childress’ isn’t from the album itself but from a live radio performance by the band on KCRW. Fittingly, given yesterday’s featured album, Folds writes in the liner notes that he sang this song “absolutely intimidated by Fiona Apple’s performance on the same show.”
Best Albums of the 90s – #6
Whatever and Ever Amen – Ben Folds Five (1997)
Here is another of those wonderful sophomore albums I mentioned a week ago. Three of my top six fall into that category, which could be a coincidence or could be evidence of some universal musical truth the nature of which has thus far eluded me. Anyone want to take a stab at it?
I’m against retrospective box sets on principle. If I’m a big fan of an artist, I own everything he or she has released and probably a few odds and ends picked up on the Web along the way as well. Invariably, the contents of a career-spanning release will be 90% redundant with what I already have.
For that reason, I initially decided not to buy Ben Folds’ 3-disc set, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.
Once in awhile I’m pleasantly surprised by my wife falling in love with a song by one of my favorite artists. Normally our tastes overlap only sparingly and the music I listen to the most tends to fall outside of her circle of favorites.
Ben Folds is of course one of my very favorites and my wife is largely ambivalent toward him. However, she is a big fan of most of Ben Folds Five’s debut album (especially ‘Best Imitation of Myself‘ and ‘Video‘) and she recognized the brilliance of ‘Emaline‘ even before I did.
Ben Folds Five closes out with one of its most modest songs, musically, at least in terms of the sort of acrobatics the band members go through on the rest of the tracks. The introduction of the string section is a nice touch.
And Folds’ piano work here, though more traditional than his usual percussive rock-n-roll style, is just gorgeous. He performs this delicate waltz with a sensitivity and maturity well beyond his years.
The song is an imaginary conversation between a worn-down Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, but it can be read as a metaphor for anybody who has reached the end of his run.