Music Review: Ben Folds sings about motel flings and other topical subjects on hook-filled album


“What Matters Most,” Ben Folds (New West)

Ben Folds’ pop confections are sweet and tart, a recipe that makes him popular with both boomers and college students. He’s a master melodist and sly satirist, a sentimental cynic and piano pounder who loves a waltz.

All those sides are evident on “What Matters Most,” an engaging 10-song set and Folds’ first studio album since 2015.

As usual, his musical approach varies widely, from pingponging synthesizer to lyrical piano, a string section, horns and handclaps, a 7/4 time signature and overdubbed vocals in inventive arrangements that evoke the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees and a barbershop quartet. Hummable hooks are plentiful as Folds sings about “life and doldrums and pain,” hilariously swears off motel flings, and makes surrendering to love sound triumphant.

His conversational lyrics lament the state of Western civilization on “But Wait, There’s More,” and specifically the perils of internet disinformation on “Kristine From the 7th Grade.” For those who disagree with his perspective, the CD package includes a photo of Folds seated atop a piano, happily sharing an obscene gesture.

Perhaps the pandemic prompted the song “Back to Anonymous,” a shuffle that contemplates the impermanence of celebrity. But “What Matters Most” should have Folds back on the charts.


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