This is yet another stellar change in direction for Ben, who shows a new and deeper facet with each passing album. Simply put, this album is well-produced and well-constructed, with two new background players (Jared Reynolds [bass] and Lindsay Jamieson [drums]), a DVD-sized package (if you get this edition), a bonus 40-minute DVD, and a whole new booklet of photography by Ben and his wife Frally. You'll also see familiar faces in the guest artists: Weird Al Yankovic, John Mark Painter, and Frally Folds.
For those of you thinking that a new bassist and drummer mean a return to the 90's and the return of a "Five," you're in for a shock. While Reynolds and Jamieson provide a magnificent background on instrumentation and vocals, their style differs drastically from the band of old. It isn't necessarily a bad or a good change, just different. This album also won't have the same dynamics as Ben's previous album (Rockin the Suburbs) or his EPs released in 2003 & 2004. As always, some will welcome the change and see it as a musician expanding his horizons and breadth, while others will not accept the fact that change is inevitable and view this as a possible betrayal of the old sound (hopefully, "Rockin' the Suburbs" and/or the EPs weeded these people out already).
The bonus DVD offers a look at the meanings of almost every song, extensive studio footage, live clips, Ben and his band watching the initial cut of the DVD, and even a look at the making of the "Landed" video. It's every music groupie or die-hard fan's dream: watch the making of the album, see the personality of the people, and get some behind-the-songs knowledge to wow your friends with. Folds achieves something with this DVD: in a generation of self-involved pop stars, paparazzi, cash grabbin', cash flauntin', and big bangs, it is possible to still release a product that was selected for a message and a tingle down the spine. Even if there is a chance Folds does this as a job, he still enjoys the work and never puts his cash or his ego on a higher pedestal than his product.
Frequent comparisons (yes, yes, enough already with this madness) to Elton John, Billy Joel, and many other artists may be strengthened by this album, which at first glance appears to share a sound that is similar, but upon a second listen, one will wonder why comparisons were ever drawn (even if "Tiny Dancer" remains a popular live cover song by Ben). When Folds does Folds, there is a unique piano technique and vocal styling all his own. If one can't seem to hear it on this, most definitely check out those EPs.
In general, this album lacks a definite "rock your socks off" single, which has always been a trademark Folds move. Instead, these songs tend toward a strong focus on smooth vocal harmonies and musical finesse in background arpeggios, jazz chording, and melody lines. The apparent tone down of the Foldsman may smooth out the "album landscape," so to speak, but the subtle touches absolutely keep it from being a bland outing. The subtlety of it all actually allows it to fall into the stereotype of "hey, man, it grows on you." It certainly does. First time around: interesting. After multiple hearings: a lasting impression, and you'll find that when the tune gets stuck in your head at work/school/wherever, you won't mind at all.
1 - Bastard: A sturdy start to the album (and probably the reason why Songs for Silverman got the "explicit lyrics" label, boo), this is apparently a song about the paradoxes of aging and the schism between the old and the young. Probably one of the most standout tracks on the album, in my humble opinion.
2 - You To Thank: One of those "grows on you" songs which starts with a fairly fluttery intro, but soons descends into an awesome jazz piano solo and a backing band showcase that proves that Ben wants to rock more than the suburbs if he can. According to Ben, this is a song about a couple married too quickly and then unable to get out due to family and friends, so they keep up the facade (watch the DVD).
3 - Jesusland: The music for this one gets stuck in my head often. A look at what Jesus would feel if he walked and saw all these people using him and his religion as a front. Some may be offended, but Ben swears he doesn't mean it as a cut to christianity, just those who misuse it (dare I say... amen?). People like me who've been born into it but don't want to be a part of it can especially relate.
4 - Landed: The first single. Extensive vocal backing and an awesome melody line make this the perfect choice too. This is a song of a man who has just finished a relationship with a controlling woman who fielded his calls and made him change himself. Touching and rocking all at the same time. Way ta go, Ben. (There was also an exclusive "strings version" internet download out there for a while as a promotional deal somewhere, pretty awesome)
5 - Gracie: Ben's ode to his daughter (just as "Still Fighting It" was for his son, Louis). Short, wistful, and quite cute (Ben Folds... cute song? what?). It's true, trust me. The anecdotes that are thrown in almost make me wish that i'll have a daughter someday.
6 - Trusted: Another one that almost enters the realm of rocker, this is another highlight for the vocal hamonies and piano melodies. This song is also about a relationship gone sour, but in the vein of "song for the dumped," there are some subtle touches of gleeful acidity.
7 - Give Judy My Notice: Even though I much prefer the solo version off of Ben's EP "Speed Graphic," this song features Bucky Baxter on 12 String Guitar and Ben's wife, Frally, on backround vocals, which definitely makes it worth the listen. Even though faltering relationships seem to be a common Folds thread, this one has more heart than most, making it a standout (any version).
8 - Late: This song and the next one are possibly my two favorite songs of the album. An ode to the late Elliot Smith (fellow musician of Folds who took his own life), this is a touching reminiscence. It's hard to say why I like this one so much, it just flows very well, and the chorus is a spine-tingler.
9 - Sentimental Guy: Due to a strong identification with this song's theme in my personal life, I consider this a favorite, but it's a very sentimental ditty on the loss of friends and the acknowledgement of change in a life. My favorite parts are the piano work and the bridge lyrics.
10 - Time: Weird Al on backing vocals, but you probably won't notice him as much, because he's not being goofy. A fairly straightforward song which still has yet to grow on me as much as the other songs. It still remains as probably the most downright pleasant-sounding song on the album, with the possible exception of Gracie.
11 - Prison Food: A stunning closer for the album with a Crosby, Stills, and Nash-sounding harmony on the bridge (followed by a pretty heavy, almost Ben Folds Five-sounding jam). The piano stays very simplistic for much of the song, so just like You To Thank, audiences may get deceived by the beginning. Just keep listening, it's quite the dope song.
Note that the LP version of this album contains the bonus Dr. Dre cover "B*tches Ain't Sh**" (feat. Mr. Reynolds and Lin-Z... if you can't get that joke, shame on you), which is absolutely hilarious, so if you get the chance (or if a friend buys it), check it out.
Also note that another EP/album will be available soon called "Songs for Goldfish," and it features a Lucinda Williams cover "Side of the Road" (up to par with almost all of "Silverman"), a commercial for a Tokyo radio station (again, hilarious), and a ton of live material (including an awesome version of "Rockin' the Suburbs," and "Weather Channel Music": the last time Ben plays "Rock This B*tch" [supposedly])
If you're interested in Ben Folds in any way, buy Songs for Silverman. You won't regret if you give it a chance.