I don't know Ben Folds. The guy won't even return my phone calls! Hey! I'm a stalker?
No. What I mean is, I don't know Ben Folds. I don't pretend to possess any kind of comprehensive knowledge about pop music and all the infinite personalities that emerge from the mostly-monochromatic musical landscape. Ben Folds, so I have read in all the recent articles about his University A Cappella album, had his first big hit in 1997. I was on a religious mission in Taiwan from 1996-1998 and extremely out of the pop culture picture (to this day I have not heard the real version of 'Wonderwall' - but I did hear Charlie play it on Lost!). It was years later that I started hearing about him, and I've never searched out his music to partake of his Foldiness!
I have been singing 'Fred Jones pt. 2' with my group the Plumbers of Rome (at someone else's suggestion) for a few years. I saw part of a Ben Folds live concert dvd at a friend's house a few years ago. I hear people talk about him. That's the extent of my Ben Folds knowledge! (exclamation points added in honor of the title UNIVERSITY A CAPPELLA!)
Seriously, for years I wondered where the surname 'Foldsfive' came from (Irish? German?). You know, because I thought his name was 'Ben Foldsfive.'
Like I said, I don't know him.
Why does this matter?
I finally got to the hear THE A CAPPELLA EVENT ALBUM OF THE DECADE (copyright 2009 New York Times, Boston Globe, etc). I listened to it for free! Online! Legally! Here: http://music.aol.com/new-releases-full-cds/#/2
Know my perspective: I don't know the songs, I don't know Ben Folds as an artist. I don't particularly care for college a cappella in general. I find the collegiate standard background syllables silly (at best) or lame (at worst). I'm irritated by the egos that go along with college a cappella. I'm frequently just BORED by the uninspired attempts at music. I don't listen to recorded college a cappella, almost as a rule. I can tolerate live performance, when the energy often makes for inspired presentations and can be quite enjoyable. Most college a cappella recordings are redundant, un-inspired novelty versions of songs that will sound far, far better if I just go listen to the original recording.
So here's my reaction to "University A Cappella!" by Ben Folds, et. al:
I was pretty bored, mostly. I'm hearing most of these songs for the first time; don't have anything invested in them, so I was judging the songs as my first exposure to them. Most of the performances were blah, most of the singing was just okay, the tuning and arrangement skill seemed front-loaded, getting progressively more blah as the album went along. Many of the soloists were good, a lot of the singing was good, but _just_ good. The basses had that choral-trying-to-sing-pop sound. Vocal percussion was decent but mon-aural. Jen jen joe joe no no nm nm zhen zhaou WHO CARES.
Seems like this Ben Folds character is quite a songwriter. I love the variety of songs he writes, the whimsy and irreverance he plays with in lyrical forms and topical exploration. The source material seems competent. But I can't be sure because I'm not familiar with the originals.
I _DID_ really enjoy Mr. Folds' two versions of his own songs. _Those_ were pretty cool. He's not tied into the college a cappella convention, so he did some very interesting, unique things. I loved the _energy_ of his tracks. The playfulness. The direct, un-weighted way he got to the core of the songs. Dynamics!
These two tracks are good music, above and beyond the novelty of being a cappella. They're interesting. He uses vocal sounds the way he uses (I assume) instrumental sounds. Energy, drive, precision.
He's not afraid to use choral sounds. Most a cappella groups don't want to be seen as choirs, so they do the jen joe bum business.
I would listen to those two tracks again.
The rest of the album, not so much.