A couple of years ago, I was in Sydney for the weekend to visit my old University flatmate Kaj. On the Friday night, we went to see the Orpheum’s monthly screening of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – my first experience of throwing plastic spoons at a cinema screen. After the film, we walked to the piano bar across the road. I’ve never seen anything like it. Expecting a cocktail bar, with easy-listening muzak played to an upper middle-class crowd, instead I found a mainly young crowd dancing to an extremely energetic pianist playing the hits of the last twenty or thirty years. At one point, somebody requested some Ben Folds, and he played a frantic version of this album’s opening number, One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces. Wonderful.
I think I owe my love of this album to Moo, who recommended it to me in the early 2000s (thank you Moo!). I think I had heard something by the band and wasn’t sold on Fold’s vocals; completely ignoring his piano chops and the pop sensibilities of his songwriting.
Landing in 1997, the trio’s second album is as alternative and, dare I say, grunge, as anything American from that decade. Folds mashes the piano keys like he’s trying to destroy it, Robert Sledge takes songs to a different level when he switches on the fuzz pedal on his bass, and Darren Jesse’s drums try and keep everything on the right track. The album was recorded in the living room of a house in North Carolina, and as a result it maybe sounds more ‘live’ than a typical studio recording.
Featuring hit MTV single Brick – an autobiographical tale of Folds taking an ex-girlfriend to get an abortion – the album boasts a further four singles, all worthy of airplay. Although, despite it being one of the funniest break-up songs around, one has to wonder how much radioplay final single Song For The Dumped would have got, given its chorus of ‘Give me my money back, give me my money back, you bitch!’.
I saw Ben Folds on his last tour of New Zealand in 2018. I’d have been happy with a greatest hits set, but he was touring a Paper Aeroplane Request show. A novel idea, he performed a normal set for the first half, before taking requests thrown on the stage by paper aeroplane for the second half. He only played one song – Steven’s Last Night In Town – from this album, focusing on his solo career and weird b-side requests from more ardent fans. Hopefully he’ll be back one day when live music is a feasible option again.
Hidden Gem: Evaporated