Ben Folds The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Folds showcases a magnificent body of work here.

Chris Beanland 2011

This retrospective set from Ben Folds could equally have been titled 63 Songs for the Dumped. For the majority of his time, Folds' songwriter's eye is focussed on plate-smashing and loneliness and other torrid traits of relationships gone awry. But his three ex-wives and countless girlfriends' loss is the listener's gain, because over two decades the North Carolina musician has served up power-pop that crackles with energy, with lyrics which have come to mean much to fans who've lived their own lives to a soundtrack from Ben and his buddies.

Folds' critics posit that he veers towards the twee, and on occasion this can be true. Yet delve deeper into the Folds catalogue and a much truer picture of the man and his music is revealed. Look at the highlights here: Smoke is a powerful story about the end of an affair, delicately rendered. It touched writer Nick Hornby, who later penned the lyrics to an album's worth of songs with Folds, Lonely Avenue – represented here by Picture Window. Still, Brick and Evaporated are three more achingly beautiful tales of heartbreak.

But things never turn mawkish. Folds knows when to step back from the brink and, as with his inspiration Elton John, much underlying emotion comes as much from those minor chords that jab into your stomach as from the lyrics. Evidence of this is apparent on Not the Same and There's Always Someone Cooler Than You. Humour is another important element of the Folds arsenal. The mood is leavened by the satire of Rockin' the Suburbs and the domestic comedy of Song for the Dumped, as well as Army, You Don't Know Me (with Regina Spektor) and Still Fighting It.

The triple CD set feels like a cash-in of course, but a version featuring a live album and a rarities disc offers the most value to existing fans. A beefier version of Time shines; there are also three nice newly-recorded Ben Folds Five tracks. Covers of Dr Dre's Bitches Ain't S***, Keisha's Sleazy and Such Great Heights by The Postal Service all outdo the original tracks. And a wonderful surprise ends things: Because the Origami, a striking new collaboration with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, is stripped-down but will you leave the encounter feeling choked.

The greatest shame is that three of this writer’s favourite Folds songs failed to make the cut: Bruised, Prison Food and the sublime Emaline deserved a place. Still, Folds showcases a magnificent body of work here.

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