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Ben Folds - Way To Normal

Ben Folds, Way To Normal

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THIS new album is really about me being free, which is why it feels cathartic and expressive. It’s about me coming back to being myself,” declares Ben Folds in the PR for his latest solo album, Way To Normal.

It’s certainly the sound of a performer having fun. Where 2005’s Songs For Silverman was best described as pensive, this latest LP is accurately described as “an exuberant, raucous, and sometimes profane mix of sure-fire crowd-pleasers”.

Album opener Hiroshima sets the standard, setting the “oh oh oh oh”‘s and vibrant piano chords against the live chanting of an appreciative crowd. It’s loud (by Ben Folds’ standards) and almost euphoric. And you can well imagine his devotees going crazy whenever it gets aired in live form.

If anything, Dr Yang is even more frenetic, or fuzzed out, channelling the spirit of McCartney early on, before crashing into a frenzied blur of feedback at several points. It’s the sound of Ben cutting loose properly – and yes, the “yeah yeah’s” flow.

The first proper gem, though, arrives with The Frown Song, a witty, barbed, lyrically adventurous (“speculate who might be fucking the guru”) crowd-pleaser that contains one of the most instantly accessible choruses on the LP. We defy you not to have fun with this one!

Regina Spektor pops up to provide a nice boy-girl vocal trade-off on the similarly breezy, borderline kooky You Don’t Know Me, the next bona fide highlight, while there’s a fleeting but beautifully composed piano interlude called Before Cologne to allow listeners to catch their breath. It only lasts 51 seconds, but leaves you longing for more.

Cologne itself is one of the more melancholy offerings, and a real grower, before the pace is picked up again on the flashy Errant Dog.

Thereafter, the vibe remains positive and energetic. There’s a synth-based sparkle to the underlying instrumentation on Free Coffee, which marks a temporary departure from the trademark Ben Folds sound, while Bitch Went Nuts is a rollicking – and foul-mouthed – break-up anthem that’s utterly infectious (though not to be played in front of mum!).

The a capella intro on Effington is strangely disarming, before the song itself spins another yarn about life in small-town America, and final track Kylie From Connecticut is a rather charming denouement built around romantic piano loops and a fragile vocal.

It caps a really good listen – one that balances emotion with comedy and melancholy with fun as only Ben Folds knows how.

Download picks: The Frown Song, You Don’t Know Me, Before Cologne, Bitch Went Nuts, Kylie From Connecticut

Track listing: