Ben Folds – “Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!”

January 01, 1970




This didn’t have to suck. That Petra Haden album where she
did The Who Sell Out completely a
cappella? That was brilliant. But then, so is Petra Haden. This is just a bunch
of college kids with Ben Folds setting modesty aside to lead them in this
tribute to his own back pages.


Most songs suffer from the fact that so much of what made
this music special in the first place is the personality Folds exudes like
other people breathe. Take the opening number, “Not The Same.” The kid who
takes the lead does his best imitation of Michael McDonald’s blue-eyed soul
until you’re sure you heard him singing “What A Fool Believes” at some
relative’s wedding in the ‘80s. But it’s not the same. Even “Brick” gets lost
in the translation, an overly earnest Tracy Chapman-style vocal swimming in
depth but missing the vulnerability that made it sound so devastating in the
first place. As a rule, the more a singer sounds like Folds (“You Don’t Know
Me” and “Magic,” for instance), the better off we are.


And Folds, of course, sounds more like Folds than anyone on
the two tracks he revisits here – the brilliant “Boxing” and the
not-so-brilliant “Effington.” But even those are undermined by wanky a cappella
touches. Did we really need the opera lady voice on “Boxing?” Most tracks
suffer from similar novelties, from the nagging staccato bass on “Not the Same”
to the scatting – yes, scatting – on an otherwise sultry rendition of
“Selfless, Cold and Composed.” The only track that benefits from this approach
is “Time” and that’s because it sounds more like the Beach Boys doing a
cappella than Manhattan Transfer. There’s a reason a cappella music has been
dwelling on the fringes all these years, and no, it’s not because the masses
are too dumb to wrap their heads around the artistry. It’s more because it’s
self-indulgent nonsense.


Standout Tracks: “Time,” “Boxing” A. WATT



Leave a Reply