A re-discovered gem — Fear of Pop: Volume 1

19 03 2009

After stashing it away for the better part of a decade, I decided to dig out Fear of Pop: Volume 1, a Ben Folds solo  project — he did have help of other musicians — from 1998.  I had listened to it a few times after it was initially released and then shelved it again for a year or two.  It never really clicked with me.  Today I played it and I loved it.  Maybe it aged well. Perhaps my tastes have changed.  More than likely it was a combination of those two plus being a bit bored with listening to the same few bands all the time.

You’ve likely never heard this album. Although it had some critical acclaim, it doesn’t have obvious mass market appeal.  Ben Folds said that he put together the project to help “satisfy my need to express some things musically – textures, orchestration, rhythms – things that don’t always naturally fall into the standard three minute singer/song format. I love to paint sounds in an abstract way, discovering their effect after it’s all put together.”

There’s a little bit of everything on the album, which is primarily instrumental with some spoken word.  Electronica is probably the prevailing sound category, but there are the elements of funk, disco and rock to be heard.  The beauty of the album is not only its execution — the songs are good — but its variety.  It’s nothing like a Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five Album; it goes way beyond his power-piano driven pop-rock sound.

The closest thing to a commercial “hit” on the album is “In Love,” a spoken word bit with William Shatner.  What I dig about the song is that it is about love turned on its ear.  Most “love songs” tell the story of a man broken-hearted over a woman.  Folds (or Shatner, I suppose) tells the story of having enjoyed the short-term relationship but readily admitting that he is not willing to commit and doesn’t care enough to get upset about the relationship’s demise.  Brilliant.  Here’s a video of “In Love.”

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