It would be unfair to label Ben Folds’ last album, Songs for Silverman, as a “serious” album — Folds never leaves his sense of humor very far behind. But it was a weightier mix of songs for him, a healthy lean toward his more introspective side. On Way to Normal, Folds has shifted the other way, toward his goofball, sarcastic side. It doesn’t take long to figure that out — the cover features Folds sitting in a yoga pose on the edge of a pool in dorky pajamas while his bandmates wait on him like servants. And the track listing includes titles like “Bitch Went Nuts,” “The Frown Song,” and the obvious nod to Elton John, “Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head).”
Normal isn’t an unwelcome addition to the Folds catalogue, but it does feel a bit slight. “The Frown Song” takes an amusing swipe at hipsters for whom sadness is trendy (“Rock on, rock on, with your fashionable frown”). “Hiroshima” is over the top from the first plodding moments and only builds from there, right through the canned arena rock applause and cheering for a nonsensical anthem. And the jewel of the bunch is “Effington,” which has the feel of a suburban Broadway musical in the waiting (it would be interesting to see him expand the song in that direction). And Folds does a great Wings’-ear McCartney impression on “Errant Dog.”
Folds does go back to his endless well of waltzing, melancholy ballads (most notably on “Kylie from Connecticut”), but none of them come close to his best work from Silverman or Rockin’ the Suburbs. Which isn’t necessarily bad — a couple of albums down the road, these songs will probably be an unexpected to treat to hear live. The good thing about Folds is he rarely stands pat waiting for his last project to grow stale before he’s on to something new, and albums like Normal just take their place in the repertoire.
Words By: Nick A. Zaino III[Rating: 3/5]