Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).
It seems disrespectful to make this list, when a person has little excuse to not own all 5 proper Ben Folds albums.
But, if you are determined to be frugal, you can't go wrong with these 12. And, yes, Brick is a great song; consider it a silently obvious #13.
1. Philosophy (from Ben Folds Five, 1995)
Wow, right out of the gate you have to be impressed by that ivory-tickling. Phil Spector pioneered the wall of sound, but this is the wall of piano. And is that a sly paraphrase of Rhapsody In Blue that I hear?
2. Alice Childress (from Ben Folds Five, 1995)
Before you ask about it, Alice Childress is a children's author who wrote A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich. The selling point here is the harmony, as well as the rainy day contemplative air.
3. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
Sadly, it's not really about a dwarf. That terms is used to refer to a child who is bullied and vows revenge on his classmates. I always think of Bill Gates for some reason.
4. Song for the Dumped (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
Another pissed off narrator. I love how the dumpee cuts right through the soft-landing talk: "So you wanted to take a break, slow it down some and have your space / Well, fuck you too!"
5. Selfless, Cold, and Composed (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
If you take this song in tandem with Song for the Dumped you have a nearly complete picture of Ben Folds as a songwriter. Both songs are about the end of relationships, but whereas the latter is funny and angry, this one is sad, thoughtful and resigned. It's the difference between a break-up and a divorce.
6. Don't Change Your Plans (from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 1999)
I didn't intend a theme, but there seems to be one nonetheless. Don't Change Your Plans is clearly a cousin of Selfless, Cold, and Composed. But this time, the narrator is the one moving on. Musically, this is as ambitious as we'd heard up to that point. Folds had clearly been listening to Bacharach/David compostions.
7. Army (from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 1999)
Another funny song, but with an undercurrent of truth. Our protagonist is not only a victim of arrested development, he's also vaguely delusional. I love the final verse where we find out he's become a politician. George W. Bush wasn't elected until 2000, making this a prescient tune.
8. Still Fighting It (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
A sweet, heartbreaking song addressed to his son: "And you're so much like me / I'm sorry."
9. Not The Same (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
Supposedly a true story about a friend who drops acid at a party, falls out of a tree and then becomes born again. I love how Folds namechecks his old band mate, Robert Sledge.
10. The Luckiest (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
One of the best love songs ever written. Seriously. "Next door / There's an old man who lived to his nineties and one day passed away in his sleep / And his wife / She stayed for a couple of days and passed away / I'm sorry I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know / We belong."
11. Trusted (from Songs For Silverman, 2005)
Beautiful melodies and twisty lyrics about the politics of relationships.
12. Landed (from Songs For Silverman, 2005)
Folds does his best Elton John impression on an apology/explanation from a friend who has been completely wrapped up in a bad relationship. The title phrase "come pick me up, I've landed" works both literally (he's at the airport) and figuratively (he's come to his senses).