[myPod is a biweekly attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
While I’m sure he’s gotten this comparison constantly over his career, it wasn’t until his third divorce that Ben Folds truly became the alt-rock Billy Joel. The angry piano man has written some beautiful tunes (“Brick,” “The Luckiest”) and some funny ones (“Rockin’ the Suburbs,” “Underground”) just like Joel, but it took leaving his third wife, Frally Hynes, just a year after thanking her profusely in 2005’s Songs For Silverman, for their yoga instructor that he became like Joel – a pop genius that consistently fails his loved ones.
I have a hard time listening to musicians I don’t like as people. Once they pull some shenanigans, it’s harder for me to break through (My Who fandom never recovered after Pete Townsend got busted for child pornography, for example). But Folds has written a lot of great songs (some of them were with his ex-wives!). He rose to prominence on the strength of Ben Folds Five’s first two records, which combined wiseacre humor with freewheeling jazz, funk, and rock bursts. They’re the most fun Folds has ever been. The final Five album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, marks a sharp turn towards the somber songwriting that has since dominated Folds’ solo discography, but I like it overall.
Folds’ solo career has been patchy, but I generally enjoy everything he did up through Silverman. Rockin’ the Suburbs got a bad rap because of the novelty of the eponymous track, but “Zak and Sara” and “Annie Waits” are catchy as heck. Folds released a trio of EPs in between Suburbs and Silverman, and they’re most notable for the quality of their covers (“In Between Days” by The Cure, “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” by The Darkness. There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while). Silverman is consistently adequate throughout. I have no major complaints about it, but it pales compared to Folds’ previous work. I think I’m gonna sell this one. Way to Normal, the 2008 follow-up, sounds like a stilted “fuck you” to the wife he abandoned, so I don’t like that one much.
Verdict: Keep, aside from Silverman.
No one ever seems to mention that Foo Fighters is essentially the most successful super group of the last 20 years. Instead, everyone mentions that frontman/guitarist Dave Grohl played drums in Nirvana. But if Nirvana had been just a little less popular, it would be easier to lump that group in with Sunny Day Real Estate, The Germs, No Use For a Name, Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, Coheed and Cambria, and Alanis Morissette (Ya know what, I’m gonna throw Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys in there too. Drummer Taylor Hawkins did great work on his Pacific Ocean Blue reissue). Foo Fighters are a solid alt-rock band made up of diehard music fans.
But they’re also possibly the most popular/derided second act bands of all time. Not since maybe Wings has a group sold so many records only to still be held captive by previous successes. Part of that problem is legacy; part of it is that Foo Fighters have always been a little more vanilla than Nirvana or SDRE.
But things started off great. Foo Fighters was an agreeable slice of indie rock. While none of the tracks sparkle like its follow-up, The Colour and The Shape, the album contains no duds. I realized recently that it might actually be my favorite Foo release at the moment, as it’s consistent throughout and none of the tracks are overplayed. Colour is still a mighty fine album, and it contains most of the band’s best songs (“Everlong,” “Monkey Wrench,” “Walking After You,” etc.). It’s a big fun rock record, but it’s also the album the band has spent the most time reacting against (There is Nothing Left to Lose) or trying to recreate (In Your Honor, Wasting Light). Thanks to failures like Wasting Light, it’s harder for me to distinguish what makes Colour so great.
Still, the Foos’ later years were solid. Lose is a little too bogged down by ineffectual pop rock (“Learn to Fly,” “Breakout”), but One By One is a great set of slinking, grooving rock ‘n’ roll. In Your Honor, a double album meant to deliver an electric and acoustic set in the hopes of encompassing everything the Foos do well, is a little bloated but still solid. “Best of You” might be better than “Everlong.” “In Your Honor” has one of Grohl’s rawest vocal takes. The acoustic set is good too; there’s breezy fare like “Cold Day in the Sun” and “Virginia Moon,” as well as the contemplative “Razor.” “Friend of a Friend,” about Kurt Cobain is powerfully intimate. As far as I know, it’s the song Grohl has released that comments on his time in Nirvana, and it’s a doozy. But after Honor, the band stumbled. Skin and Bones is a neat acoustic set, but Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace and Wasting Light floundered in loud, dumb rock hell.
Verdict: The essentials, then, are Foo Fighters and Colour. There is Nothing Left to Lose can split, but One By One and In Your Honor can stay, even though my copy of Honor has this stupid copyright protection that won’t let me play it on my computer. Skin and Bones is neat but a little dull in the middle. I bought Greatest Hits because I like the Tom Petty-ish original track “Wheels;” it’s something of a guilty pleasure, but I wish the set picked better songs. I like “Stacked Actors” a lot, but it’s one of the few highlights on Lose. I’m sad to pass it on, but not so sad that I’m going to stop myself.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall Original Soundtrack
Given that Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favorite movies, obviously I picked up the soundtrack not long after seeing the film for the first time. It’s got some choice cuts from acts like Cake and Belle & Sebastian, but the real winners are the original tunes, performed by stars Jason Segel and Russell Brand. Segel’s lonesome piano ballad “Dracula’s Lament,” in which Dracula longs for love, has the perfect blend of silly and sappy, but “Taste for Blood” is pretty good too. Brand’s faux-band, Infant Sorrow, gets in some choice songs that manage to parody every rock band from the last 30 years.