In time of relationship meltdown, what man would not want to cop some Ben Folds attitude? “Wish I hadn’t bought you dinner,” he sings in “Song for the Dumped,” “Right before you dumped me/ On your front porch/ Give me my money back/ Give me my money back, you bitch/ I want my money back/ And don’t forget to give me back my black T-shirt.”
This is the pattern: Folds’s words put a low-key sheen on high-key situations, and after hearing them you feel better. Nick Hornby, from his essay about the song “Smoke”: “‘Smoke’ is, I think, lyrically perfect, clever, and sad and neat...and it was a constant companion during the end (the long, drawn-out end) of my marriage, and it made sense then, and it still makes sense now. You can’t ask much more of a song than that.”
Ben Folds is a rock star, but he has cottage industry written all over him. Telling memory: I saw him using a pay phone, unrecognized, on a university campus hours before a gig. An artist who made it cool to be uncool, Folds has often demoted his alt pop to “punk rock for sissies.” My take? Serial rock pianist with the heart of a killer clown embraces soft-core punk.
Ben Folds Five (a trio) was where Folds’s career gained traction. By 1999 they were finished, and a steady stream of solo projects followed. His strength as a writer lies in the small observations of man and woman and the examination of dating creatures from the dark side: “The bitch went nuts/ She stabbed my basketball/ And the speakers to my stereo/ She called me c**t/ But nothing prepared me for what I found when I came home.” Sound familiar?
BEN FOLDS: House of Blues, Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $32.50.