January 29, 2004

Ben Folds "Sunny 16"

Ben Folds. I like him. He's quirky, intelligent and always funny. This is a man who could release a record that, though not very good, will still leave you smiling. Some people I know think he's smug. Those people need to get a sense of humor, because there's nothing wrong with humor. Though I would not say that Folds is a comic writer--some of his songs are quite poignant--it's the humor which really stands out. A twist of the word, a turn of a phrase--Folds has very few equals when it comes to songwriting.Apparently he's doing things on his own now, and that's okay. He's stated that putting together and releasing Sunny 16 made him feel as if he's starting over again, and that it feels like a demo tape.

Though he may say it feels like a demo tape, you should be reassured that does not mean that Sunny 16 sounds like a demo tape. Heck, even a moment or two on this little self-released record could easily stand higher than some of Ben Folds Five's highest moments. As Folds has always had a 'you aren't so hip and neither am I' attitude, then the opening salvo of Sunny 16, "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You" is no surprise. It's a fun jab at hipster attitudes, much in line with "Underground" and "Your Redneck Past." When he sings "Yeah you're the shit but you won't be it for long/Cuz there's always someone cooler than you," you can hear the naughty little grin in his face, and you can't help but love him for it.

Of course, when you start a small record like this with an excellent song, the rest of the record tends to pale in comparison. Still, when the songwriting is as high quality as Folds', 'pale in comparison' is a relative term. "Learn To Live With What You Are" is a nice, soft piano ballad, with some of Folds' sweetest vocals. "All U Can Eat" is a funny commentary about the selfishness of upper middle class American society. It's nice to see someone pointing the finger at the wealthy of this country, and Folds is the right man for the job. "Rockstar" is a merely OK follow-up to "Boxing." The final song, "Songs of Love," is an excellent cover of a Divine Comedy classic.

I like Ben Folds, and Sunny 16 is more evidence as to why you should like him, too. He's still got the magical lyrical and musical touch. Now, could we have a new full-length, please?

--Joseph Kyle

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