Artist: Ben Folds
Album: So There
Label: New West Records
Release Date: 09/11/2015
Behind Ben Folds’ eternal frat boy/pound-the-piano-keys-into-oblivion demeanor lurks the genius of a Glenn Gould protégé. Intense melody and sophisticated structure have always shaped his material – regardless of whether they’re solo tracks or the angsty singalongs of his namesake group. On this effort though, Folds has released an album that fully showcases his artistic maturity. So There takes him out of the realm of “alternative” music and hurls him into the mainstream – contemporary and classical combined.
The uplifted sound stems from woodwinds, strings and brass, which suddenly turn Folds’ work into Smile-esque romps that could have easily escaped from Brian Wilson’s mind (be sure and savor the vocal harmonies on “Yes Man!”). His tenor fresh and exciting, Folds lets these other instruments pep up his tunes as he takes listeners on a chamber pop-fueled journey you won’t want to end.
Working in tandem with New York instrumentalists yMusic, Folds unleashes a solid effort that proves classical music conveys just as much emotion as lyrical songs. Album opener “Capable of Anything” instantly recalls The Postal Service’s infectious “Such Great Heights,” while the title track is reminiscent of Folds’ own “Zak and Sara” from 14 years earlier. “Phone In a Pool” says screw it all, while keeping a mighty beat at the same time.
But Folds still knows how to play the snarky wiseass creator card as well. “Not a Fan” ends on a sobering expletive which recalls “Song For The Dumped,” while “F10-D-A” contains enough double entendres to make a nun blush.
Fortunately, levity is not a frequent theme on this album, which culminates in a strong 20-minute three movement “Concerto For Piano and Orchestra.” On this, Folds plays alongside the Nashville Symphony and leaves his vocals at the door as he gives listeners the musical twain of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Keith Jarrett’s Arbour Zena.
If there was ever a time to take this great artist seriously, it’s now. Creatively speaking, Folds has done some serious growing up and the results are tremendous.