Album Review: Ben Folds – The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective

Given that Ben Folds has been in the business for over 20 years – via Ben Folds Five, his solo albums, and touring and collaborating with The Bens (Ben Kweller, Ben Lee, and Folds), Rufus Wainwright, and William Shatner – it was only a matter of time before he issued his own retrospective. Now, that day has come with the arrival of one broad three-disc affair titled, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.

This collection isn’t a best of, necessarily, but more of a front-to-back anthology of Folds’ resume. The songs are a representative swath of the acclaimed songwriter’s diverse releases, with the first disc culling together tracks from his studio work with Ben Folds Five, solo efforts, and various soundtracks. This includes hits such as “Brick”, “Annie Waits”, and “Rockin’ the Suburbs”. The songs are straight from the albums for the most part—save for a few, like an extended version of “Still Fighting It” and a cut of “Smoke” featuring the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

The second disc is all live tracks, and this is the disc that shows Folds at his best, the songs coming alive and morphing into something new and fresh. Folds’ piano and improvisational skills are showcased well here. Rocking tracks like “Army” and “Zak and Sara” explode live, and the recordings do them complete justice. Also included is a hilarious but still amazing duet with Rufus Wainwright on George Michaels’ “Careless Whisper”.

Overall, the release is a must-have for Ben Folds fans, but really only for the live portion and, to an extent, the third disc, which is all demos and previously unreleased songs, including a fantastic 1992 take of “The Best Imitation of Myself”, where Folds’ voice sounds incredibly young behind his thick North Carolina accent. There’s also the enjoyment of two newly recorded Ben Folds Five songs that may be on their forthcoming reunion album, possibly due out next year. Now, there’s a release worth grabbing.

Essential Tracks: “Army”, “Zak and Sara”, and “Careless Whisper”


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