Ben Folds, 'Way to Normal' (Epic)

6
Way To Normal
Critical Mass
Label: Epic

by Shannon Zimmerman

On 2001's Rockin' the Suburbs, Ben Folds hit a career high, rendering melodic, detail-rich short stories peopled by, among others, a bored '80s girl sitting on a Peavey amp ("Zak and Sara") and a father confronting his son while dressed as a bird at his fast-food job ("Still Fighting It"). But here he treads water, spinning tour-diary tales into bang-ups and ballads that, on "Hiroshima (B-B-Benny Hit His Head)," nod to Elton John and, on "Cologne" -- an arpeggiated Bic-flicker that runs out of butane -- to '70s schlock poppers Bread. Folds is incapable of mediocrity, but Way to Normal comes way too close.

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