Ben Folds - you know the score by now. This release is not out to prove anything that’s not been proved before, but rather to demonstrate Folds’ strength in depth, gathering the highlights of his recent internet-only EPs and soundtrack appearances. Yet the quality of the material on display is such that this transcends the 'fans only' nature of similar releases by so many other artists.
Folds’ liner notes tell us that the internet has served him well as a fresh, liberating outlet, eliminating the laborious promotional circus accompanying a standard release, and this sense of liberation is very much in evidence for the brilliantly rousing opener, a cover of The Cure’s ‘In Between Days’. However, the similarly caution-to-the-wind stab at The Darkness’ ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ proves the merits of quality control.
Indeed, often, it is when Folds is at his most measured that he’s at his best, as demonstrated by his unlikely yet exquisite cover of Dr Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’. A white, middle-aged, middle-class ivory-tinkler taking on a Grade A slice of gangsta rap may be an obvious gag, but Folds carries it off with huge aplomb, and even succeeds in turning the hair-raising foul language and incredible misogyny into a work of considerable beauty. It’s as funny as hell, of course, and the highlight of the record.
Yet there’s a great deal more to supersunnyspeedgraphic than knockabout cover versions. ‘All U Can Eat’ sees a despairing father pointing out to his son the greediness, vanity and selfishness rife in their fellow citizens. “They give no fuck,” he laments, “they talk as loud as they want”. Yet they’re helplessly unable to change things - and it’s all rather affecting. There’s also a definite paternal feel running through the advisory tales ‘There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You’ and ‘Learn To Live With What You Are’. The message is in the titles - life’s short, so accept yourself and get on with it.
Yes, Folds often plays even the most innocuous line for laughs, but that just serves to make his moments of open-hearted tenderness all the more disarming, and strips any potential over-sentimentality from lines such as “I just love you for the things you couldn’t change / Though you’ve tried”. This juxtaposition of comedy and tenderness is central to Folds’ work, and lends his songs a sincerity many of his contemporaries could only dream of.
supersunnyspeedgraphic _certainly has its fair share of disposable tracks - such as the ’80s MOR of _‘Bruised’ and the very average ‘Adelaide’ - but to write the record off as one for the completists would be grossly unfair. It’s a document of a hugely talented and mightily clever songwriter and performer, adept in making the listener think, laugh and cry - often in the same song.
7Dan Cooper-Gavin's Score