Ben Folds' first proper album, 1995's Ben Folds Five, was named for his band. And although Alanis Morissette had her breakthrough hit that same year with "Ironic," I'll put money down that nobody was more ironic that year than Ben Folds. After all, there were only three members of this Ben Folds Five! The pianist/singer/songwriter wore his sensibilities on his sleeve, and that slightly skewed - and yes, ironic - worldview has served him well over the years. "Underground," off that first album, smirked at the hipsters of the alternative scene, but that was the very scene in which the musician was gaining notice.
The Ben Folds "sound" was in place on that first release, making a stew out of Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson; in other words, power-pop with a Tin Pan Alley emphasis on melody and clear storytelling. Based on his humor, I'd even venture to say that a little Frank Zappa was in there! Sure, Folds' lyrics were often profane, and resonated greatly with his youthful audience, especially during his live shows which boasted all of the raw power of punk. The Five was a breath of fresh air surrounded by the often-angst-ridden music of the era. Folds' dedication to classic, richly melodic songcraft has served him well, and the one-time "underground" college-circuit favorite is now so mainstream that he's being celebrated by Legacy Recordings with the October 11 release of The Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective (1995-2011).
Best Imitation of Myself will be offered as a single-disc compilation or a three-disc set containing demos, studio outtakes, alternate mixes and live tracks. Best of all, three new tracks have reunited Folds with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee, the other two-thirds of the Five, for their first studio work together in over a decade. One of their new songs, "House," will be available on the single CD, while all three can be found on the deluxe edition. In other words, the considerable vault of Mr. Folds - from his rough-around-the-edges early songs to the mature, often yearning compositions that pepper his latter-day efforts - has been opened!
Just what will you find? Hit the jump, friends! We've updated in BOLD with new information as to where you can hear a stream of the new Ben Folds Five reunion track "House," and we've got more details on the upcoming Ben Folds '55' Vault!
The new collection is a comprehensive one, offfering eighteen "greatest hits" on the first CD. Of course, this disc leads off with "Brick" in its radio mix, appropriate as the song remains the esteemed artist's only major singles chart success at No. 17 on the Top 40. The tracks are in non-chronological order, and encompass all of his studio releases. There are two tracks from 1995's Ben Folds Five, and three (including the original "Brick") from Ben Folds Five's major-label breakthrough, 1997's Whatever and Ever Amen, perhaps the best power-pop album of the decade and one of the finest of all time. Youll find one from the ambitious 1999 concept album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, four from solo debut Rockin' the Suburbs (originally released on September 11, 2001), two from 2005's Songs for Silverman, and one each from 2008's Way to Normal and 2010's Lonely Avenue, a collaboration with novelist Nick Hornby. That first disc also adds a track from an EP, one from Folds' soundtrack to the animated comedy Over the Hedge, and a new track from the Five.
The second disc (no pun intended) offers live versions of many of the fan favorites excluded from Disc One, including Reinhold Messner's concert sing-along "Army," the jubilantly puerile "Effington," and the piano-pounding outrage of "Song for the Dumped," as well as cover versions including a duet with Rufus Wainwright on "Careless Whisper." The third disc contains almost all completely-unreleased material, and is a stylistic successor to Ben Folds Five's first "odds and sods" collection, 1998's Naked Baby Photos. Covers on the third disc come from an eclectic group of sources including Steely Dan, Dr. Dre and Ke$ha! Only tracks from Folds' early band, Majosha, are absent from this comprehensive overview of a long career.
Folds comments in the collection's freshly-penned liner notes, "This is the album I will submit for the next Voyager to be launched into space. It's my best shot at an honest assessment of where I was in each period of my career. In the end we tried to put together a collection of the unrepeatable, each recording hopefully representing a moment that was somehow otherwise beyond my ability."
Best Imitation of Myself boasts a 24-page booklet, and all tracks have been remastered from the original tapes. Cover art has been provided by Opie Otterstad; check it out, above! But that's not all! In compiling the anthology from "literally hundreds of recordings," according to Folds, 55 additional tracks languished. The solution was to make them available as the online Ben Folds '55' Vault. Those who purchase the three-disc edition of The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective will be given an individual code redeemable for a bonus 5 song downloadable EP, Free Folds Five, from the Ben Folds '55' Vault in addition to access to 50 rarities available for purchase exclusively on the site. The tracks on the Free Folds Five EP are:
- Underground (Demo, 1992)
- Steven's Last Night in Town (Demo, 1994)
- Song for the Dumped (Demo, 1994)
- Narcolepsy (with Ben Folds Five) (Recorded live on 11/21/99, Brussels, Belgium)
- Dr. Yang (Recorded live on 11/23/08, Leuven, Belgium)
"House," the first single off The Best Imitation of Myself, begins streaming today, August 23, exclusively at NBC.com in conjunction with Folds' upcoming return as a judge on the network's a cappella singing competition The Sing-Off. Ben will be producing the upcoming EP from Sara Bareilles, who is joining him as a fellow judge for the program's third season. The season kicks off on September 19!
Both the single and triple-disc iterations of The Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective (1995-2011) are available from Legacy Recordings on October 11. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Folds will no doubt find himself flattered by future up-and-comers who will build on his singular brand of melody, humor and heartbreaking melancholy much in the way he's built on the work of everyone from Elton John to Dr. Dre to Burt Bacharach over the years to create a style that's his own and wholly original. The remaining 50 tracks in the online Vault will be revealed in the coming weeks, while the track listing for the three-disc edition follows! You'll also find pre-order links to both the official MyPlayDirect site and Amazon!
Finally, don't miss our EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Ben in which he discusses Best Imitation and so much more at length!
The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective 1991-2011 (Epic/Legacy 88697 92683-2, 2011, available in 3-CD edition or 1-CD edition containing only Disc 1)
Disc 1: Greatest Hits
- Brick (Radio Mix) - Ben Folds Five
- Annie Waits - Ben Folds
- Philosophy - Ben Folds Five
- Underground - Ben Folds Five
- Landed (Strings Version) - Ben Folds
- One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces - Ben Folds Five
- Don't Change Your Plans - Ben Folds Five
- The Luckiest - Ben Folds
- Smoke - Ben Folds with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra
- Rockin' the Suburbs - Ben Folds
- Kate - Ben Folds Five
- Gracie - Ben Folds
- Still Fighting It (Extended Version) - Ben Folds
- You Don't Know Me - Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor
- There's Always Someone Cooler Than You - Ben Folds
- Still - Ben Folds
- From Above - Ben Folds
- House - Ben Folds Five
Disc 2: Live material
- Julianne - Ben Folds Five
- Video (Recorded at Studion in Stockholm, Sweden on March 12, 1997)
- Song for the Dumped (Recorded for Hard Rock Café Live television program on June 12, 1998)
- Missing the War - Ben Folds Five (Recorded at Royal Albert Hall in London, UK on December 14, 1999)
- Mess - Ben Folds Five (Recorded at Royal Albert Hall in London, UK on December 14, 1999)
- Magic - Ben Folds Five (Recorded at Royal Albert Hall in London, UK on December 14, 1999)
- Selfless, Cold and Composed (Recorded at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on December 9, 2001)
- Zak and Sara (Recorded at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on June 13, 2002)
- Girl (Recorded at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on June 13, 2002)
- Just Pretend - The Bens (Recorded at Palais Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on March 24, 2003)
- Fred Jones Part 2 - Ben Folds with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (Recorded at Kings Park in Perth, Australia on March 12 & 13 2005)
- Careless Whisper - Ben Folds with Rufus Wainwright (Recorded at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA on August 24, 2005)
- All U Can Eat (Recorded at Ben's Studio in Nashville, TN on October 24, 2006)
- Long Tall Texan (Recorded at the Warehouse in Houston, TX on October 24, 2008)
- Army - Ben Folds Five (Recorded at UNC Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill on September 18, 2008 for the MySpace "Front to Back" series)
- Battle of Who Could Care Less - Ben Folds Five (Recorded at UNC Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill on September 18, 2008 for the MySpace "Front to Back" series)
- Kylie from Connecticut (Recorded at the State Theatre, Detroit, MI on October 9, 2008)
- Effington (Recorded at Ax Hall, Seoul, South Korea on June 9, 2011)
- Picture Window (Recorded at HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London, UK on February 20, 2011)
- Sentimental Guy (Recorded at Diamond Hall in Nagoya, Japan on June 7, 2011)
- Not the Same (Recorded at A.E.C. Theatre in Adelaide, Australia on May 22, 2011)
Disc 3: Studio Rarities
- Unrelated (Unfinished Song Demo, 1996)
- Best Imitation of Myself (Demo, 1991)
- Rocky (4-Track Home Demo, 1993)
- Boxing (Demo, 1993)
- Julianne - Ben Folds Five (Unreleased First Album, 1994)
- Evaporated - Ben Folds Five (Unreleased First Album, 1994)
- Alice Childress
- Barrytown - Ben Folds Five
- Amelia Bright - Ben Folds Five (Mitch Easter sessions, 2000)
- Tell Me What I Did - Ben Folds Five (New track, 2011)
- Rock Star (Demo, 2oo0)
- Losing Lisa (Demo, 2000)
- Break Up at Food Court (Demo, 2000)
- Wandering (Demo, 2000)
- Hiro's Song (Demo, 2000)
- The Secret Life of Morgan Davis (Alternate Mix, 2001)
- Such Great Heights (Alternate Mix from MySpace Sessions, 2006)
- Bitches Ain't Shit
- Time (Alternate Version, 2004)
- Because the Origami - 8in8 (Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, and Damian Kulash)
- Stumblin' Home Winter Blues -Ben Folds Five (New track, 2011)
Original version of Disc 1, Track 1 and Tracks 6 and 11 from Whatever and Ever Amen (550 Music, 1997)
Disc 1, Tracks 2, 8 and 10 and original version of Track 13 from Rockin' the Suburbs (Epic, 2001). Track 13 previously unreleased on CD.
Disc 1, Tracks 3-4 from Ben Folds Five (Caroline, 1995)
Original version of Track 5 and Track 12 from Songs for Silverman (Epic, 2005)
Disc 1, Track 7 from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (550 Music, 1999)
Disc 1, Track 9 and Disc 2, Track 11 previously unreleased on CD - originally released on the DVD Ben Folds and WASO Live in Perth (Epic, 2005)
Disc 1, Track 14 from Way to Normal (Epic, 2008)
Disc 1, Track 15 from Sunny 16 (Epic, 2003)
Disc 1, Track 16 from Over the Hedge: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic, 2006)
Disc 1, Track 17 from Lonely Avenue (Nonesuch, 2010)
Disc 1, Track 18 is a previously unreleased new track
Disc 2, Tracks 1-2, 4-10, 12, 14-16, 18-21 previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 3 from The Best of Hard Rock Cafe Live, Sire 31069, 2000
Disc 2, Track 11 from Live in Perth, Epic DVD 07464 58494-9 , 2005
Disc 2, Track 13 from Live at MySpace, Epic DVD, 2007
Disc 2, Track 17 from The Sound of Last Night...This Morning, iTunes-exclusive, no cat. no., 2009
Disc 3, Tracks 1-6, 9-17, 19, 22 previously unreleased
Disc 3, Track 7 from Rare on Air 3: KCRW Performances , Mammoth 162, 1997
Disc 3, Track 8 from Me, Myself and Irene: Original Soundtrack, Elektra 62512, 2000
Disc 3, Track 18 from B-side of "Landed" 7-inch vinyl single, Epic 34 71845, 2005
Disc 3, Track 20 from Download to Donate's Tsunami Relief, no cat. no., 2011
Disc 3, Track 21 from Nighty Night, no cat. no., 2011
"The Ben Folds “sound” was...making a stew out of Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson..."
An excellent description!
I am so in for the three-disc edition, and will likely pop for all or most of the other 50 rarities...I just hope they're made available in either lossless or 320k quality.
Joe Marchese says
Thanks, RS! Can't wait for the rarities, myself. Gotta admit that this is a very creative way to incorporate both digital and physical into a killer package.
Will definitely get this but of course I'm still hanging onto hope that he'll figure out some way to offer the 55 rarities on CD... 🙂
Eric Luecking says
Of course this article made me pull out my deluxe edition of Whatever And Ever Amen today.
Joe Marchese says
Thanks, Eric -- I never grow tired of "Whatever." Just a stone-cold terrific LP.
Some of my favorite Folds work of all appeared on those 3 EPs (Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, Super D). For anyone who has the SuperSunnySpeedGraphic compilation CD, you really must track down the separate EP's. Every one's a killer.
A box set done right! Will certainly shell out for the 3 disc version.
Mr. Folds, please call Mr. Sting and show him how it's done!
Any word on any vinyl releases for this?
Nice summary. Really well done. I've done a review of the album, if you care to peruse. http://wp.me/p1YhYp-J