‘Steven’s Last Night in Town’ is a standout song on an album full of standout songs, Ben Folds Five’s sophomore release Whatever and Ever Amen. It’s about record producer Stephen Short, a friend of Ben Folds who came to visit and never left. As Folds recalls, “we must have thrown five or six going-away parties for him.”
On a film podcast I listed to recently, the hosts discussed Sight & Sound‘s decision to no longer let critics combine The Godfather and The Godfather Part Two into one entry when submitting their “ten best films of all time” lists.
It’s no doubt the correct decision. It’s patently unfair to let two masterpieces join forces in facing off against individual films. But they tell such a potent and tragic tale together that you kind of want to bend the rules and just go with it.
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?
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.
Best Songwriters – #3 – Ben Folds
Ben Folds could easily have been #1 on this list. It’s only his relative youth compared to the two songwriters to come that slipped him to the third spot. Twenty or thirty years from now, if he continues to produce the sort of music he has thus far, he’ll be pretty much unbeatable.
In 1995, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut, an album that I have often called my favorite of all-time, and to date the only record I’ve ever covered in its entirety on this blog. That album alone earned Folds a spot on this list.
‘Evaporated’ is the final track on Ben Folds Five’s sophomore album, Whatever and Ever Amen. It’s slow and angsty and one of the best examples in Ben Folds’ whole catalog of him being introspective.
Folds is so fast and funny so often than he really earns his more somber and thoughtful moments. For a guy so steeped in irony, an earned tear is a rare and lovely thing. He shares that quality with one of his idols, Randy Newman, who has written his own share of songs like this one.
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.