Album Review – Ben Folds – So There

The history of rock and pop artists dabbling in orchestral music is long and uneven. From Deep Purple’s lumpy Concerto for Group and Orchestra, to the splendid soundtrack work of Randy Newman, it’s been a mixed bag and unless the musician in question has the appropriate grounding in music theory, it can result in something really rather embarrassing. So the question here is, is So There Ben Folds’ equivalent to “Lick My Love Pump”?

Throughout his career, Ben Folds has been someone who can put his hand to just about anything. From alt-rock, to singer songwriter introspection, to cover versions, to singalong hits, to indulging his experimental side, there’s been little that he hasn’t been able to handle. Personally, I’ve always had a fondness for the material when he adds a little bit of grit and humour to it, though understandably, those that prefer his more sophisticated output tend to see the same material as perhaps being a little immature. The fact that Folds is as capable of goofing around as he is of taking his work very seriously indeed is one of the reasons that his fans remain loyal, regardless of whether his last album personally appealed to them or not.

So There is evidently a project that Folds took very seriously indeed, and it shows. The goofiness is generally kept to a minimum, instead the focus is on a brace of finely crafted chamber pop tunes recorded with the yMusic ensemble, and a three part concerto which forms the final third of the album. The fact that there’s a little less of Folds humour on display is a good thing, as it would have inevitably have detracted from the mood of the album, and if orchestral music is about anything to a cloth-eared rock and roll fan like myself, it’s about mood and ambiance, though I’m sure those of you with a more deeply ingrained love of Radio 3, would be able to put it much more eloquently.

Whether So There is a one off fascinating detour, or the start of something that Folds will return to periodically remains to be seen, either way it’s a sophisticated demonstration of his talents as an arranger, and an album which reached a whole new level of audio brilliance, particularly if you take the time to immerse yourself in it and listen to it through a good pair of headphones. Personally, I’d like to see Ben Folds continue as he has been over the last decade, splitting his time between recording as a solo artist, occasionally reforming Ben Folds Five when Robert Sledge and Darren Jessie’s schedules allow, and doing the odd side project like this as and when his muse dictates. Sure, some of his output will appeal to me more than others, but his remains a fascinating career path to follow.

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