After a four-and-a-half-year break, which included numerous side projects such as the Bens, William Shatner’s Has Been and a trilogy of EPs, Ben Folds has finally released the follow up to his solo debut, Rockin’ the Suburbs, with the long-awaited and long-delayed, Songs For Silverman.

Folds’ old sound remains largely intact, simple yet skillfully arranged piano pop tunes with straightforward and often powerful lyrics. Folds is a master of his instrument and of song crafting. He always knows just when to break into a piano solo or softly hit a chord and sing in his melancholic falsetto. However, his sound has lost the edgy and fresh feel of his Ben Folds Five days. The album opens up with “Bastard,” a song about a cynical kid who already has the mentality of an old, hardened man. The song showcases additional instrumentation, such as harmonizing backup vocals and horn sections, the likes of which appear frequently on Silverman. The second track “You to Thank” starts off slowly, but by the end has Folds doing some of his best piano rocking since Whatever and Ever Amen.

After thoroughly enjoying the first half of the album, however, it becomes clear that it is a bit front-loaded. The second half contains decent material, much of which is pretty forgettable. The final track, “Prison Food,” is especially lackluster, containing no memorable characteristics and ending the album on a bit of a sour note. In “Gracie,” Folds sings a pop lullaby to his daughter, which even overshadows “The Luckiest” in sappiness. A tribute to singer/songwriter, Elliott Smith, “Late,” showcases the best and worst of Folds’ lyrical abilities, poignantly singing at one point, “The songs you wrote / got me through a lot / just wanted to tell you that / but it’s too late.” However, after this Folds continues with the mundane chorus, “It’s too late / No, don’t you know / it’s been too late / for a long time.” Especially because it’s a tribute song, I expect a little more effort than that.

Despite its up and downs, Silverman will still be a hit with longtime Folds fans, or at least enough to hold them over. The understated wit of songs like “Bastard” and “Jesusland,” the earnestness of “Sentimental Guy,” the pop euphoria of “Landed,” and Folds’ always-stunning style and grace behind the piano still make him one of the most talented musicians in the business.
[Artsweek welcomes Chris Otte to the family.]