Review Summary: The Over The Hedge Soundtrack >>>
Approximately four minutes into What Matters Most
, Ben Folds sings “clouds with ellipses, they come and go, and come and go, and fade away”, a line that unfortunately proves itself to be a precise descriptor of his newest full-length release. Throughout the entirety of his career, Folds has made his mark on the music scene through incisive lyricism, captivating and labyrinthine chord structures, and melodic flourishes, courtesy of both his vocals and his prodigious amount of talent on the piano. What Matters Most
is dead on arrival first and foremost because it plays to absolutely none of Folds’ strengths, and falls flat on its face when it attempts to lean into his natural gifts as a songwriter and performer. Opening circus dirge “But Wait, There’s More!” admittedly caught my attention with its rapidly panning keyboard buildup, only to slap me in the face with its hackneyed barbershop quartet harmonies, cheesy horns, and toothless political commentary. To release an album dunking on the malicious incompetence of the Trump administration and anti-vaxxers in 2023 is certainly a choice, and the lateness of the hour sheds even more light on the fact that Folds is saying neither anything new nor of substance on this record. The frankly insufferable “Kristine from the 7th Grade” proves as much, a purposeless story of an old middle school crush who fell down the QAnon rabbit hole, an ill-advised mess where Folds uses the phrase “deluge of memes” and expects me to take him seriously, a five-minute classical guitar-tinged puke stain that I will never unhear. His apolitical narratives throughout the tracklist aren’t quite as infuriating, but I wouldn’t describe them as an improvement. “Exhausting Lover” in particular signifies a woeful misread of the room; it’s a manic pixie dream girl meet cute with dialogue reminiscent of the infamous “I’m weird” monologue from Riverdale
, a tongue-in-cheek track that seems to understand that none of us want to receive a mental image of Ben Folds having sex in a dingy motel, but pries our eyes open and forces us to look anyway.
On the musical front, it doesn’t get much better. “Back to Anonymous” and closing track “Moments” are the only numbers here that I would classify as “non-annoying”, with the 8 remaining tracks all finding a way to grind my gears, get under my skin, rustle my jimmies, et cetera and what not. “Fragile” is the true cloud with an ellipse of the album, a lifeless vapor of a ballad that’s been written by Folds a million times over, but never this carelessly. If one turns toward the back half, they’ll find tracks like “Winslow Gardens”, the token banger of the record that was clearly written in a 7/4 time signature because Folds sat down and thought “I need
to write a song in an odd time signature”, resulting in the melody feeling stilted and incomplete rather than rhythmically engaging. All of the aforementioned lyrical disasters in the above paragraph are equally frustrating instrumentation-wise, especially “Kristine”, which is a dynamic black hole written at odds with its lyrical content. For an album with a mission statement as obvious and preachy as “these last few years have been too much to handle, but there’s so much beauty to be thankful for in the world”, it’s hilarious how much it sounds like Ben Folds just doesn’t want to be here. Despite its long gestation period and pristine production, it sounds as though no one believes in What Matters Most
less than Folds himself, and this bleeds through every single vocal performance and instrumental arrangement on the record. Whether it was released out of obligation, a profit motive, or genuine artistic expression, What Matters Most
was a chore for me to listen to, and what matters most to me in this present moment is that I tell you that it is bad.