Album Review: Ben Folds Five, “Whatever And Ever Amen” (1997)

…And so my journey with Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five continues. If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ll know my journey started when I bought Ben Folds’ first solo effort, Rockin’ The Suburbs. Recently I backtracked and purchased Ben Folds Five’s second album, Whatever And Ever Amen.

In 2000, the group (Ben Folds,Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee) broke up, and as I mentioned before, Folds, went onto solo success. However, despite being nearly a decade old (the CD was released in ’97), Whatever And Ever Amen still provides a nice example of the wonderful music that BFF created.

The album begins with the lively track, One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces. A jaunty piano-based melody plays in the background of a song about someone who was teased when they were younger that is now coming into their own. Fair follows, and we get a true glimpse of Fold’s piano playing talent. Though the song is musically similar to the track before it, the lyrics are deeper as Folds sings about a tumultuous relationship that’s coming to an end. The song also highlights Folds’ vocals and showcases some nice backing vocals from Sledge and Jessee.

The subject matter grows deeper with Brick. The song turns out to be an autobiographical story for Folds; he wrote the lyrics based on an experience with his girlfriend in high school who had an abortion (“As weeks went by/It showed that she was not fine/They told me ‘Son, it’s time to tell the truth now’/She broke down and I broke down/Cause I was tired of lying”). The slow driven ballad is certainly one that tugs at the emotions, and it’s obvious that Folds feels regret of his young decision (“Now that I have found someone/I’m feeling more alone/Than I ever have before/She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly”), though the song never comes off as being preachy or even having a sturdy statement against abortion. The entire track is heartfelt and earnest, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it touches me every time I listen to it.

The mood lightens up immediately with the crashing piano that introduces Song For The Dumped. A song that drops the f-bomb, and the “b” word seems unlikely for a piano-rock trio, but the track is delivered with such sarcasm and great comedic timing that it quickly became one of my favorite songs. Folds seems pretty angry with his ex-girlfriend in this song (who dumped him on her front porch, afterhe bought her dinner), and anyone who has been on the bad side of a breakup will find themselves singing along with a wry smile during the chorus (“Give me my money back/Give me money back, you b*tch/I want my money back/And don’t forget/To give me back my black t-shirt”). The melody is as loud and angry as the lyrics, and this is easily one of the other stands out tracks on the album.


Another of my favorites is Selfless, Cold and Composed, a slow ballad that reminds me of one of Folds’ solo songs, Carrying Cathy. Anyway, the melody is simple and soft, and though the track runs over six minutes long, each moment is a treat. Folds’ voice is calm and alluring as he sings to an ex that seems to have gotten “over” their breakup long before he did (“Come on, baby now throw me/A right to the chin/Don’t just stare like/You never cared/I know you did/But you just smile/Like a bank teller/Blankly telling me/Have a nice life”).

The tempo picks right back up with Kate a fun, yet silly, pop song. Smoke follows, and despite the charming melody, vocals, and lyrics (“Where do all the secrets live/They travel in the air/You can smell them when they burn/They travel/Those who say the past is not dead/Stop and smell the smoke”), the song has failed to grow on me.

Next up is Cigarette, a short track that continues the story of Fred Jones (who you should remember from Folds’ aforementioned solo album). Like Fred Jones Pt. 2 I teared up during the first (and second…and okay, third) listen of this song which tells us a bit more about Fred Jones’ life:

Fred Jones was worn out
from caring for his often
screaming and crying wife
during the day but
he couldn’t sleep at night for
fear that she
in a stupor from the drugs
that didn’t ease the pain
would set the house ablaze
with a cigarette

The song is delivered with raw emotion and simple piano, and after listening to it, I can’t help but think that poor, fictional Fred Jones has it pretty hard.

Steven’s Last Night In Town is one of my favorite songs to listen to on the album. The sound is almost ska, with blaring horns and over-the top harmonies and vocals. The song is so fun musically, and if I ever need an energy boost, this is the first track I put on. However, the lyrics about a man who seems to be a bit of a flake (“‘Cause everyone knows now/That every night now/Will be Steven’s last night in town”) are awkward, and I honestly don’t understand what Folds’ sentiment behind the lyrics was, but whatever. Just listen to the song and tune out the words…

The album continues its downward spiral with Battle Of Who Could Care Less and Missing The War. While the first of the two is a bit more interesting (a track about people who just float through life without any motivation), both songs have bland melodies and nothing really sticks out in either of them.

The album closes with Evaporated, another slow ballad that also fails to catch my attention despite repeated listens. The lyrics are almost too depressing (“Here I stand, sad and free/I can’t cry, I can’t see/What I’ve done/Oh God, what have I done?”), and while Folds’ delivery is again heartfelt and emotional, I don’t think the track serves as a good closer to the album.

Whatever And Ever Amen is a nice collection of songs, and shows where Ben Folds Five shines- in songwriting ability, vocals, and great melodies. My journey with Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five has just begun, and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of their albums.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces
2. Fair
3. Brick
4. Song For The Dumped
5. Selfless, Cold And Composed
6. Kate
7. Smoke
8. Cigarette
9. Steven’s Last Night In Town
10. Battle Of Who Could Care Less
11. Missing The War
12. Evaporated


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