Ben Folds - Way To NormalBen Folds’ first entire album of new material since 2005’s Songs For Silverman (Supersunnyspeedgraphic really just being a compilation of material that had been tried out on limited-run EPs first), Way To Normal heralds Folds’ return to the U.S. (accompanied by the almost prerequisite seismic changes in his personal life), and as a result, the musical tone shifts wildly from song to song.

There are songs that are immediately accessible (the duet “You Don’t Know Me”, set to a drum machine beat with sampled strings, and “Cologne” and “Kylie From Connecticut”, both reminiscent of Folds’ best ballads), and some that may take a bit of time to grow accustomed to. “The Frown Song” is a nifty little number whose mosquito-like synths may be off-putting at first, and “Brainwashed” with its overpowering drum beat instantly brought New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” to mind. “Errant Dog” and “Bitch Went Nuts” will appeal to fans of quirky Ben Folds Five numbers like “Song For The Dumped”. I can’t quite get my head around “Free Coffee”, but that’s simply because of the production choices made and not the song itself – there’s a very hissy, high-frequency sound running through most of the song that I just find irritating. As a fan of production-driven orchestrated rock, I’m all for trying out daring things at the mixing board, but if it drives the listener away, what’s the point?

3 out of 4The usual caveats apply to Folds’ music – no-holds-barred language (it definitely earns its dreaded “parental advisory” sticker on the cover) being chief among them – but long-term Folds fans will probably be (mostly) pleased. It’s just that there are a couple of tracks here that might throw even the devout followers; the album title itself seems to hint that Folds is trying to find his way back to normal (no, it’s not a text-message-speak-era typo of “way too normal”)…and maybe the next album will be a four-star offering once he gets there and life settles down a bit for him.

Order this CD

  1. Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head) (3:37)
  2. Dr. Yang (2:30)
  3. The Frown Song (3:37)
  4. You Don’t Know Me featuring Regina Spektor (3:11)
  5. Before Cologne (0:53)
  6. Cologne (5:02)
  7. Errant Dog (2:24)
  8. Free Coffee (4:01)
  9. Bitch Went Nuts (3:06)
  10. Brainwascht (3:48)
  11. Effington (3:32)
  12. Kylie From Connecticut (4:44)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 40:25