100 for 2000 – #51. Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #1. Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman
(Sony)

I adore this Songs For Silverman, beyond all sense. It’s by no means the best album Ben Folds has put his name to. Yet, it is miles away my favourite. I would not recommend anyone start with Ben folds on this record. Yet I love it. It feels like it’s made for me. I fell in love with this album in 2005 and have carried it with me closely ever since. Several of the songs on here are the highest played songs on my iPod!

Not that I wouldn’t have bought this album anyway, as I am a big fan of Folds, but this album came with no expectations from me. I had heard there’s a new record coming out. I had heard the single (Landed) and thought it was pretty nice. But at the time I was listening to A LOT of adult pop. I was utterly obsessed with Paul Simon’s solo work. I loved Simon’s reserved character, and how he let the songs speak without putting on a passionate voice or demeanor (the opposite of the tortured artist schtick of Ryan Adams).

So in 2005, I listened to this record, those early Paul Simon records and that year’s Aimee Mann record (will be talked about later). And they all share that trait. No show-boating. Which is big for Folds, because high energy and humour are two things that helped make his career. His last hit had been Rockin’ the Suburbs.

That no showboating, unsentimental feel of this record pretty much summed up those years for me as well. I was getting over things, and moving on. A lot of the fire I had in my early 20s were going out. But it also meant I stopped feeling bad about some stuff. And feeling bad about things is not something that happens on this record.

The characters that populate the songs on this album have it hard, but Folds is offering them little comfort or empathy. The from the old man in Bastard to the young couple in You To Thank, Folds gives you their story, the inevitable ending and leaves it at that. And if you are to look at these characters as part of Folds himself (dangerous ground, I know), then he is playing both the has-been and the young naive fool in a doomed relationship.

It was not until years later that Folds said that this was a break-up album, as he divorced his wife after this album. But it’s actually one step more – it’s a moving on album. Give Judy My Notice, the centerpiece heart of the record, is simply that – a guy saying to his girl that he’s not going to be around anymore.

It all ends in a glorious, laid back, mid tempo climax of my three favourite Ben Folds songs ever. I have listened to these three songs many, many times.

Sentimental Guy, third last on the album, is another goodbye song – but Folds is looking back at the past and wonders why he doesn’t miss it more. Brilliant, subtle, songwriter-y images flood the song, and the melody lifts at the end… god it’s great. My fave of the three.

Time, the second last track on the album is regretful but damning. A song to an ex-lover, giving them the blessing to crucify your memory, both in her head and to her friends. But how they both know it’s not the whole truth. It’s up there with the great fuck yous of early Bob Dylan, but done in a more gentlemanly manner, and with a killer piano hook.

Finally, Prison Food. There is much less going on here lyrically, but it’s a hypnotic rush. It’s got a huge Floyd like middle bit that rushed through like a plane engine of harmonies. It’s some mumbo jumbo about walking the earth and being alone. It certainly sounds like a big existential point, and it’s the right way to end such a personal record.

But there are other songs apart from the relationships and characters. Gracie, the lightest moment on the record, is written for his daughter. Yet, compared with other pop treats in this man’s catalogue, it’s incredibly spare. Then there’s Late, a tribute to the late Elliott Smith. Even Fold’s take on that is down to earth and drama-less.

I mean, for fuck’s sake. How many other albums can you think of that has a black and white cover? That’s the mood we are working in.

I love the other songs I haven’t mentioned but that would just be listing, wouldn’t it? But I do have to say, the music and production are typically awesome. Folds has lost none of his melodic gifts. His songs are just as interesting and well built as always. It certainly beats the college rock shine of his last record.

So what so great about a musician keeping his emotions in check? I don’t know. I know it’s not a popular view. But sometimes I don’t want drama. As much as I love Thunder Road, I realise I’m not the guy in that song. But I feel like I’m the people on this record, and these kinds of records. It’s like, sometimes I just want to watch something that’s two people I can relate to talking to eachother for a long time. Put the spaceships away.

These are every day songs. To paraphrase a friend, these songs are like those reliable socks. Not flashy, but they are well made and you get something out of them in ordinary situations. I still look for records like these, because I can always do with more socks.

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