Whatever and Ever Amen has an unassuming (some might say overbearingly indy) cover with washed-out photos of Ben Folds Five members against a plaid-cloth background. The CD itself is bright orange, and, along with the title, distributor, and copyright, has a little pair of hands making a W. The liner notes have silly pictures, lyrics, and a funny, satirical note that some kind soul has posted to http://www.fieryfred.blogspot.com/2002_06_23_fieryfred_archive.html

The CD was produced and recorded in the fall of 1996 (by Caleb Southern and Ben Folds), mixed by Andy Wallace, mastered by Howie Weinberg, and released six months later. It's really great.

One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces is a fast track about a picked-on kid coming back as an adult to exact revenge (or at least gloat about his improved social status). Waking up to this song for a good portion of high school has made me hate it too much to elaborate further.

Fair's first verse tells the story of a couple's fight and a fatal coincidence:

when he lunged onto the hood, she stopped to tell him she'd been wrong. He was thrown head over heels into the traffic coming on.

And then the weary beginning of the song proper, only seconds from the chorus:

But then, all is fair; all is fair in love.

The second verse reveals the first as metaphor: the narrator is in the trying-vainly-to-regain-contact stage of postrelationship angst.

Every couple nights or so, you know, you pop into my dreams. I just can't get rid of you like you got rid of me. But I send my best

-- and then the fairplay-turnabout and mind-expanding recontextualization --

'cause god knows you've seen my worst. But then, all is fair; all is fair in love.

and in the end, the narrator feels like the situation is universal:

Am I right? I'm lonely and I'm right.

As always, the 5's creative production and songwriting (the vocals interweave with a piano line bouncing between, roughly, the Amaj tonal center and Gmaj/A, though there's plenty more modal complexity to go around) keeps the song sounding more philosophically stoned than bitter.

Brick was Ben Folds Five's only major hit. It's a great song with a piano background that connotes a I-IV-I without quite stating it (specifically, a Dmaj vamp played over, consecutively, D, G, and B, with an Emaj turnaround).

Few of the promgoers probably realized the bittersweet lyrics are about getting an abortion (Folds said he "didn't want to make a big hairy political deal out of it".). Starting with

6 a.m., day after christmas, I throw some clothes on in the dark. The smell of cold; car seat is freezing

they paint a fairly vivid picture. Along with the requisite heart-sharing ("now that I have found someone, I'm feeling more alone than I ever have before") there's plenty of sincere, naturalistic clarity:

They call her name at 7:30; I pace around the parking lot. Then I walk down to buy her flowers and sell some gifts that I got.

Kate perfectly describes every crush I've had -- full-person attraction tinged with envy. The person in question is amazingly self-assured, smart, cool;

When all words fail, she speaks / Her mix tape's a masterpiece

Every day she wears the same thing / I think she smokes pot / She's everything I want / She's everything I'm not

(Wow. Even reading that last line gives me that feeling in the center of my torso.)

and the narrator's emotions are inexpressible.

Oh, I. . . And the backup vocals respond Have you got nothing to say?

It's the only track on Whatever and Ever with three writers -- Ben Folds, Darren Jessee, and Anna Goodman -- and one of only 3 not written solely by Ben Folds; Jessee, BFF's drummer, is the one with co-writer credit on the other 2 (One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces and Brick).

Anna Goodman was Folds's first wife, but this wasn't public knowledge until 1999; in the liner notes she's credited as "A. Goodman". Kate was his second wife. They were married, breifly, in 1996; the song was recorded that fall with the rest of the album.

Each verse's melody is a repeating vamp of sorts over a I IV/ii I pattern: an F major chord for the first two lines, then two successive (but slightly different) amalgamations of Bb major and G minor for (taking the first verse as an example) the part from "Gather" to "I...", then a turnaround back to F major that lands on "say".

Song For The Dumped is fun. It can be read about in its own node.

Selfless, Cold And Composed is about human interaction of one form or another, and frustration at it feeling off, meaningless being dumped.

TenMinJoe says re Whatever and Ever Amen: I love BFF. Selfless, Cold, & Composed is about being dumped, isn't it? He wants the girl who dumped him to at least be upset or angry or ANYTHING but she remains selfless, cold, and composed.

(I'm not sure how I missed that; something to do with buying the album at 14, probably.) One of the more memorable parts:

You don't owe me to be so polite; you've done no wrong. You've done no wrong. Get out of my sight.

Smoke's lyrics earned it anthology in poetry collections and a chapter in Nick Hornby's 31 Songs (published as Songbook in the U.S.). Ostensibly it's about the fantasy of starting a relationship over again, from the beginning. The past becomes a book whose pages are torn out and burnt, or so the narrator tries to convince his girlfriend.

All the things we've written in it never really happened. All the people come and gone never really lived. All the people come have gone; no one to forgive - smoke.

That's impossible, of course. You can't really forget --

Where do all the secrets live? They travel in the air. You can find them when they burn; they travel.

Those who say the past is not dead, stop and smell the smoke. You keep on saying the past is not dead -- come and smell the smoke. You keep saying the past is not even past, you keep saying --

-- and even if you could, the relationship's history is its foundation.

We are / smoke

Cigarette is a tiny song that uses dissonence to highlight its images. The full lyrics:

Fred Jones was worn out from caring for his often screaming and crying wife during the day, but he couldn't sleep at night for fear that she, in a stupor from the drugs that didn't ease the pain, would set the house ablaze with a cigarette.

Steven's Last Night In Town has Kletzmer musicians on it. It seems like it sucks until you realize it's mostly sarcastic, and can be read about in its own node.

The Battle of Who Could Care Less contains the album's title, and its humor and emotional complexity capture Whatever as a whole.

After an ooo-ooo-ooo harmonized intro, melody on bottom, the narrator tries to talk to a friend, his frustration at the trademark GenX apathy tinged with admiration.

I know it's not your thing to care, I know it's cool to be so bored. It sucks me in when you're aloof; it sucks me in, it sucks, it works. I guess it's cool to be alone.

The second verse is more resigned but still unsatasfied:

And you think Rockford Files is cool, but there are some things that you would change if it were up to you.

In the end his last effort to get a response fails (Well, this should cheer you up for sure -- see, I've got your old ID and you're all dressed up like the Cure.) and he ambivalently gives up.

Unearned unhappiness. You're my hero, I confess.

Missing The War has nice harmonies. It's about a life of waking up without remembering the night before, as far as I can tell, but I can't seem to piece the central analogy together properly; message me if you want.

Evaporated reflects "Brick," beginning with a simple, repetitive piano line and full-immersion lyric

Woke up way too late, feeling hungover and old, and the sun was shining bright; I walked barefoot down the road

but is, if anything, even more depressed; the narrator's lost the ability to feel. It's an album-closer reminiscent of Pinkerton's "Butterfly". As with "Brick," Fold's delivery is perfect, expressively numb.

Blind man on a canyon's edge of a panoramic scene, or maybe i'm a kite that's flying high and random, dangling a string.

I have faith that there's a soul somewhere that's leading me around. I wonder if she knows which way is down.

I poured my heart out -- it evaporated. See?

"Whatever and Ever Amen," Ben Folds Five's sophomore effort, was remastered and re-released in March of 2005.

I generally don't put much faith in remasters. While I understand the concept behind polishing albums that didn't get the star treatment the first time through because of budget or technology or both, I still can't get past the idea that the record companies are just trying to make me pay for the same CD twice. I was especially wary here because the rawness of the disc was part of the fun - the album was recorded in Ben Folds' living room and there's a warm, fuzzy quality to it that I didn't want to lose for the sake of 'clarity.'

I was relieved to find that this reissue left the quirks intact. Ben's playing of the inside of his piano on Smoke is still as jarring as ever, but you can actually hear him scrape individual strings. You can still hear the phone ring two-thirds of the way though Steven's Last Night in Town, and Evaporated, a song I know intimately enough to charm girls with if there's a set of keys around, a song for which I thought I would break the fingers of any recording engineer who even thought of nudging a single dial, unbelievably sounds better here than on the original - the quiets are slightly quieter and the cello was brought out a tiny bit, but that's it. On the whole, it's a supreme example of what hiring the right engineer can do.

There were a few stylistic changes made, however - the random dialogue from the original recording session that ended out a few of the tracks was bumped to the beginning of the following tracks, which can either be good or extremely annoying depending on one's outlook, and the 'hidden track' was removed in its entirety. Not that you're missing much - the track was just a snip of dialogue, a guy saying 'I got yer hidden track RIGHT HERE! Listen! Ben Folds is a FUCKING ASSHOLE!' I always though it was a bit out of place following Evaporated anyway.

- - -

I realize this is all pretty academic to anyone not hopelessly obsessed with Ben Folds Five, and Sony must've realized that too - they've tacked some extras onto the end of the disc that, while most of them have been floating around the net and on various singles and compilations for quite awhile, are still nice to see on a full release. There are phenomenal (studio) covers of Video Killed the Radio Star and She Don't Use Jelly, as well as a version of Song For The Dumped done entirely in Japanese (except for the screamed "Fuck you, too!" from the first verse and the "You Bitch!" from the chorus, which is just as well) that was previously only available on the Japanese export.

Air, the song they did for the Godzilla soundtrack, makes an appearance too, which is great - it's a highly underrated song. There's a lot of the banter from the recording sessions left intact on these additions, and it's great to hear a group of people having so much fun while they work.

The only major problem I have with this reissue is that these extra songs really disrupt the narrative flow, or at least obfuscate it - it's an album that works well as an album instead of a mere collection of tracks, and jumping from the last official song to Video Killed... feels like a thematic error.

Is it worth it? S'up to you and I'm a bit biased, but it's worth a listen if nothing else. Take it for a test drive, see what you think.

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