Review: Ben Folds — So There

3.5 OUT OF 5 NUTS!

benfolds-sothereThe piano is the only Rock instrument that is also a core element of classical music, so it stands to reason that some Rock pianists will dabble in classical forms. Paul McCartney and Billy Joel are among those Rockers who have released classical music albums. The brilliant Canadian producer Chilly Gonzales (Feist, Daft Punk) has practically made a career of approaching classical idioms from a Rock perspective.

So Ben Folds’ foray into the classical realm is not all that surprising or unexpected. On So There, Folds hedges his bets a little bit by splitting the album in two. The first half consists of 8 original pop/Rock songs written, arranged and performed in collaboration with the New York classical sextet yMusic. The second half is his “Concerto For Piano And Orchestra”, recorded with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

The first half delivers plenty of the Ben Folds we’ve come to know and love, and the chamber sextet enhances the proceedings in surprising ways. yMusic is a very innovative chamber group, and they don’t just bring up the strings in the background. They use a variety of instruments to provide a myriad of textures and accents, whether its horn arpeggios keeping a beat or twin cellos sounding like guitar lines.

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There’s some really beautiful stuff here, from the plaintive ballad “Not A Fan” to the ironic 21st century lament, “Phone In A Pool”. “F10-D-A” is a laugh and a must for any students of music theory, as the lyrics consist of Folds calling out the chords as he and the sextet play them.

If I have a complaint, I must say I’m getting pretty tired of hearing about this guy’s bad relationships. Jeez, it’s about time he started meeting some nicer women and not variations of that “Brick” chick over and over again. In the musically-enticing track “So There” he brings us all down again with:

A mattress and a stereo,
Just like I started.
And a note composed with thumbs and phone
On unpacked boxes.

It’s so well written,
But I won’t be sending it.
And I will not forget you;
There is nothing to forget.
Oh, so there.

There are times when the lyrical banality veers off into the land of cheese. Imagine how great he might have been had he found his own Bernie Taupin.

On the other hand, I may have even enjoyed the “Concerto” half of this album more than the chamber pop half. Don’t think Mozart, think Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue”, or Leonard Bernstein’s score to “West Side Story”. But Folds also brings a spark that classical often lacks, in the form of blue notes or jazz notes, or simply in his distinctive energetic style, that makes this part of the album a really nice late night or rainy day listen.

Together, the two sides make So There a must-have for any Ben Folds fan. Those Rock fans impressed by classical idioms and textures, or really musical virtuosity of any kind, should also take note.

Release Date: September 11, 2015

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One comment to “Review: Ben Folds — So There”
  1. Pingback: Watch Great New Ben Folds Video “Not A Fan” | Rocknuts

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