Retro Hype: Ben Folds Five ‘Whatever and Ever Amen’

Let’s begin with a quick quiz. Have you ever done any of the following:

  • Owned a ‘Monster in my Pocket’?
  • Stayed up until 3am to watch ‘Noisy Mothers‘?
  • Wrote the names of your favourite bands on your Army Surplus canvas bag?
  • Bought a Nirvana album during the first week of release?

If the answer is ‘Yes’ to to any of these… CONGRATULATIONS! You are a child of the 90s. Someone who probably listened to ‘alternative’ music (as it was referred to then) and probably owned a copy of Whatever and Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five. When I first heard this album back in 1997 I thought it sounded weird, and it still kind of does. The lead instrument is a grand piano, a piano being thumped to within an inch of its life, but still… a piano, and the rhythm section consists of steadily pounding drums and a super-fuzzed bass. This makes the songs on Whatever and Ever Amen sound like the bastard child of Mudhoney and Harry Connick Jr. The whole album was recorded in two rooms of the apartment Ben Folds was living in at the time which gives the whole album an incredibly lo-fi sound. The opening honky-tonk fuzz of opener ‘One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces‘ is a definite statement of intent. The energy and sardonic lyrics don’t let up and this carries on throughout the entire album. But there never seems to be a strong sense that the band are taking themselves too seriously.

Having said that, ‘Brick‘ is very different from the rest of the album (this is one of the rare points where it does get serious). It’s a delicate ballad about the time Folds went with his high school girlfriend to get an abortion. It’s still an intense listen. But the album then goes straight into ‘Song for the Dumped‘, an anthem for a generation of jilted teenagers (give me my money back you bitch / and don’t forget / to give me back my black t shirt) albeit from the guy’s perspective, but I think everyone can relate to those lyrics. And who could forget the album’s ode to apathy ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less‘? Whatever and Ever Amen is a triumph of disjointed indie Americana. The songs manage to encapsulate the awkwardness and anxieties of being a teen into blissful pop orientated nuggets of music, without getting too angsty about it. And listening to it 15 years later, it sounds like the essence of what they were talking about is still relevant. Ben Folds Five managed to create an album that negotiated its way through the 90s and came out the other side… brilliant and relevant with the right amount of punch and sarcastic wit to carry it through.

One response to “Retro Hype: Ben Folds Five ‘Whatever and Ever Amen’

  1. Pingback: Tom’s Top 5′s: Albums of 1997 | Revolutions Per Minute·

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