If you were to use one word to describe Ben Folds as an artist, then ‘quirky’ would certainly be it. Twenty years after first introducing us to his identifiable brand of idiosyncratic alternative pop, the now 49-year old singer songwriter finally appears content with his place within the music industry, and eager to embark on the next chapter of his flamboyant career. It is for this reason perhaps that his latest record So There offers something of a sea change from what we’ve grown to expect from the ever-youthfully voiced troubadour.
Whereas Folds’ previous albums, (both solo and as part of the Ben Folds Five) were bursting with wit and personality, his latest offering is a decidedly more downbeat, even nonchalant affair. An ambitious project in its own right – containing just eight conventional pop songs with the album’s remainder devoted to his ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra’ with the Nashville symphony – Folds has chosen to take a more ‘mature’ approach to recording, focusing instead on his supreme musical talents, rather than his knack for creating humorous, tongue-in-cheek pop jingles.
Keeping in character, the record is laced with the usual instances of self-deprecating humour (“I grew up on sugar cereal and TV” on ‘Not A Fan’), abrupt honesty (“I’ve stopped caring what you think about me” on ‘Capable of Anything’), and even playful, albeit slightly irritating folly (naming key changes on ‘F10-D-A’), but it just seems to lack the dry witticism that we’ve always enjoyed from a song writer of his talents.
Admittedly, Folds’ 21-minute concerto does indeed fulfil its purpose in showcasing his stature as both a musician and composer, while his sound has been notably elevated though the addition of a sophisticated range of instruments including the cello, viola and trumpet.
One does wonder though, if this new sense of splendour has come at the expense of fun, an element that has been a refreshingly ever present factor in Folds’ two decade career, not to mention a cornerstone of his enduring appeal. This aside however, Folds still has to be congratulated on what is an otherwise courageous, highly accomplished record. Fingers crossed we haven’t seen the last of the more ‘colourful’ side of his personality just yet.