Having flung myself headlong into Ben Folds Five in the late 90s / early 2000s the 2001 solo album “Rockin’ the suburbs” was for me considered in the same canon, I mean how do you really separate Ben Folds Five and Ben Folds the solo artist musically?
What followed on from that was a brief hiatus – yet my thirst for new tracks never abated and like a diligent super fan I kept my ear to the ground. I can’t really remember how though, this was still early days of the internet, we’re at MSN messenger and had not arrived at MySpace so I was probably on some fan bulletin boards, email newsletters and scanning the music press like NME, Melody Maker and Q for any brief mention. However despite his underground popularity Ben Folds was never really featured here.
Still to this day I’m undecided about how big Ben Folds actually is, everyone seems to know who he is or has heard of him yet he still maintains a feel of an under the radar artist. Simultaneously existing in two worlds of being popular and mainstream and being unknown and underground – Schrodinger’s artist if you will (correct reference I hope).
Then there were whispers from somewhere of some new tracks, not a new album but some EPs and what followed was a series of three “Speed Graphic”, “Sunny 16” and “Super D”. I imagine this as some shadowy whispers but this was probably well publicised and I ordered all 3 as they were released. The first one opens with a bouncy piano riff, signature Ben Folds “rock piano” and the drums roll in and we get to the opening line of “yesterday I got so old, I felt like I could die” and so started what for a while would become one of my favourite Ben Folds tracks.
And then at some point, some point long after I should have realised, I found out this was not a Ben Folds track, this was a Cure song, a top 20 Cure song at that. Which I can be forgiven for not knowing because I was two years old when it hit the charts and also no one else I knew listened to the Cure. I’d obviously heard of them but their music, it just wasn’t on my radar.
Now I’d been raised, and I’m putting this firmly on my mum, to believe that the original was always the best, which is understandable from a woman who had grown up in the 60s and seen so many tracks since then butchered. She had instilled this belief in me having listened to terrible versions of her beloved Motown tracks appear over the years. So off I went to, sorry Robert Smith, but Limewire probably, and I had a listen to the Cure’s version.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know where this is going, The Cure version just doesn’t tick the boxes for me. The pace feels too slow, the track lacks the punch of the Ben Folds version. The riff falls flat on the guitar compared to the piano interpretation on Speed Graphic. So don’t believe them, the original isn’t always the best – in this case it’s still a good song – but for me Ben Folds lands so much better. To be fair as well he has a history of great covers, from the now cancellable “Bitches ain’t shit” to the Darkness’ “Get your hands off my woman” and other favourites like The Postal Service’s “Such great heights” and The Diving Comedy’s “Songs of Love” – all well worth checking out.
There is the lingering question of whether which came first affects what you prefer. I can’t tell you if I’d known The Cure version before hearing Ben Folds would I still be of the same opinion, that’s a question for some academic study. In the meantime I’ll stick to enjoy what I enjoy and recommending you check it out too.