Whatever and Ever Amen

by Jim Withington

ben folds five whatever

I finally got my copy of the re-issue of the incredible Ben Folds Five album Whatever and Ever Amen the other day, after watching it rot on my Amazon Wish List for years. It’s so cheap now that it’s insulting, for such a great album to be bargain-binned out like this.

This album exists on a tape that was so beloved that even my good buddy Nate talks about it. One side had this album, the other had the Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. I flipped that shit into the Ford Tempo so many times. I remember entire moves—from college to the “home” that was my mom’s new apartment, back again—where all I did was throw this in my old stereo and flip it over and over. I still don’t know the full lyrics to “Evaporated,” because the song always cut off during one of the “oh God, what have I doooone” lines. It always trips me up.

Whatever and Ever Amen also has “Brick,” the biggest Ben Folds song until “Landed” became an unlikely 2005 hit. I go back and forth about finding out the origins of lyrics to my favorite songs. One side of the coin is that knowing The Sunset Tree is heavily autobiographical makes it even more powerful of an album—the best of the Mountain Goats catalog, in my opinion. On the other hand, songs like “Brick” make me not want to compare the narrative to real life events; maybe I’m stupid and that’s why I didn’t know what he was getting at in the song, but really, I think it’s more that the song can mean a lot of things and I hate singing it and thinking of what it’s supposed to be about.

I remember that moment in 1997 when this album and this band was everywhere. It spread around campus so quickly, seemingly coming out of every dorm room that fall of my sophomore year of college. Musical theater majors would bring the house down by covering “Selfless, Cold, and Composed.” My closest friend would baffle me by being someone who listened to them when he was still in high school. I wonder if bands can do this anymore; are there albums that just blow up like that now, or is it all just singles and Gaga and BitTorrent on campuses now?

I’ll always love this one. “Kate” will forever make me laugh about using the words “cake” or “Nate” instead; “Battle of Who Could Care Less” will always be catchy as hell; and this will always, always be one of the best albums ever to sing along to in the car. And that needs to be the barometer for more good albums: driving away, wind in your hair, friends singing along, who the hell cares where we are driving?

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One album a day says it better in three words: “plonky piano pleasure

Read part of a 1997 review of the album on my new “reviews from when they came out” tumblr

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