Ben Folds

Whatever and Ever Amen, Ben Folds Five's breakout album, was filled with the snarky, stoned, hilarious observations of a man who didn't know whether to cry or write a musical satire about it. It's almost a decade later now--Folds is solo, married (happily, for a change) and he's a father, who has abandoned the sarcastic, piano-banging gimmicks in favor of tame melodies and restraint. His second solo album, Songs for Silverman, is confident and bravely sincere--slower tempos and none of the tongue-in-cheek goofs that have marked a Ben Folds album. (His first solo album, Rockin' the Suburbs, sported as its breakout song and namesake a typical Folds satire of poseurs and wannabes. Super D, one of the three EPs he released exclusively online, featured a cover of the Darkness' "Get Your Hands off of My Woman.") In its place, we have a sappy song about his daughter ("Gracie"), red-state peculiarities ("Jesusland"), a eulogy for Elliott Smith ("Late") and a handful of vaguely compelling character sketches. "Landed" is a beautiful ballad of romantic ambiguity, even if the piano does sound a little like James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." But that brings up a problem Folds faces: how to keep his edge while losing his youth. As fine a songwriter and musician as he is, Songs for Silverman lacks tooth. It's fine, it's grown-up, the arrangements are nice, but I can't help wishing someone would sit down at that piano--and just bang the living shit out of it.

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Sarah Hepola