“Way to Normal” is Ben Folds’ third solo album, following 2001’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs” and 2005’s “Songs for Silverman.” “Suburbs” was a departure from his previous band, Ben Folds Five, using guitar and several other instruments in addition to the typical piano, bass and drums. “Silverman” was a return to that original formula, but featured stoic, held-back tracks that were beautiful and intensely moving. In many ways, “Silverman” was his most subdued and focused album, where he was the sole singer and songwriter.”Way to Normal” represents Folds’ return to the up-tempo, irreverent and raucous breed of songs he wrote with Ben Folds Five.
The album’s opener, “Hiroshima,” is the very literal recount of the protagonist falling off a stage at the title’s location and hitting his head. The track’s straightforward lyrics may be bizarre, but they set the rest of the album’s songs in motion. The protagonist feels the fullest effects of the brain damage through a somewhat random and disjointed series of songs, as made evident in “Dr. Yang” (Folds’ view of new-age medicinal treatment), “Cologne” (regarding the difficult process of mentally and emotionally letting go of someone), and “Free Coffee” (representing the irony of a “broke” lifestyle versus the benefits that come with a famous name).
Ben Folds has always had a talent for composing strong and memorable melodies, and the songs in this album are no exception.
His collaboration with Regina Spektor in “You Don’t Know Me” combines Spektor’s unique vocals and Folds’ musical capabilities to create a work unlike anything previously experienced on a Ben Folds album. However, the greatest example of Folds’ ability to create influential, lasting musical works is in “Way to Normal’s” closing track, “Kylie From Connecticut.” The string arrangements, written by Ben Folds himself, play an integral part of the song. The orchestra work becomes especially dominant in the bridge, and can create a hauntingly mesmerizing effect on the listener, closing the album with a contrast of soothing chords and lyrics of discontent.
The album, released September 30th, includes a one-hour documentary-style look into what it means to know, work and travel with Ben Folds. Different insights are offered from his fellow musicians, tour staff, his parents, and even his elementary school teacher. All marking the Ben Folds experience to be a remarkable one.
“Way To Normal’s” title concept embraces multiple connotations. The initial tracks involving Folds’ stage-diving stunt and consequences depict a straying from and return to medical normalcy. Through a combination of the track “Dr. Yang” and the album cover, featuring Ben Folds sitting in a meditative position, Folds illustrates a more philosophical approach – perceiving the idea of “normal” to be a state of mind one wishes to attain. In the track “Effington,” Folds’ entertains the idea of physically making his way to the town Normal, Illinois. When the album is viewed as a whole, it is obvious that there is no single interpretation of “Way To Normal,” which denounces the idea that the concept of “normal” even exists.
Folds recently decided to open up a contest of sorts regarding his next album to be released, tentatively, in the spring of 2009.
The album is to be made up of roughly a dozen tracks of Folds collaborating with college a cappella groups covering some of his older works. More information is available at: http://www.benfolds.com/acappella.
Currently, Ben Folds is on tour, heading south to Texas at the end of October before traveling overseas.
He will be performing at various locales in Europe, ending the “Way To Normal” tour December 14 in the United Kingdom.
Dave Palermo is a second-year student majoring in Music Therapy and can be reached DP658734@wcupa.edu. Tara Tanzos is second-year student majoring in English and can be reached TT649875@wcupa.edu.