Both Ben Folds and Garbage were in town this week promoting their new studio albums. If you didn't have the chance to hear the new stuff live, read on!


Ben Folds

Ben Folds
Songs for Silverman

Ben Folds, the "Piano Man" hero of GenX, is back … and this time he's not concerned with Rockin' the Suburbs.

While that last CD included plenty of guitars backing up his always front-and-center piano, Songs for Silverman eschews the distortion pedal and, instead, focuses sharper on Folds' keyboard work and knack for melody — which is ironic, because this time he's working with a band, whereas his last project was a complete solo effort.

You could call it a return to the style of his early days with Ben Folds Five, except that back then, Folds pounded so hard and fast on the keys that you didn't even notice there wasn't a guitar player. But he's not breaking his fingers for the most part this time.

Silverman is Folds' "gentlest" effort to date, with these songs being closer to his ballads, "The Luckiest" and "Carrying Cathy," from Rockin' the Suburbs, rather than that last album's pounding title track or its popular "Zak and Sara."

That said, Songs for Silverman adds a solid batch of insightful, funny, and sometimes sad new songs to the already rich Folds canon. Opening with "Bastard," a character portrait of a grumpy old man that gives Folds the chance to show off his juke-joint piano skills, Silverman includes 11 songs that are rich with Folds' wry sense of humor — which keeps these songs from getting treacly.

"Landed," the first single, opens with a rich piano cascade that slows to let Folds detail the history of a broken relationship before launching into a glorious, upbeat chorus that lets him show off his falsetto and rollicking piano fills as he announces that, after a long life detour, he's back ("if you wrote me off/I'd understand it/cuz I've been on/some other planet/so come pick me up/I've landed")

"Gracie" is a sweet, simple piano and cello song that every parent will identify with. Singing to his daughter, Folds tells her that "you can't fool me/I saw you when you came out/you got your mama's taste/but you got my mouth/you will always have a part of me/nobody else is ever going to see."

Moving from warmly emotional to deeply disappointed, Folds follows "Gracie" with "Trusted," a song about discovering that the one you love has been trespassing in your diary to find out what you really think."Late" gives a moving tribute to Folds' one-time tourmate, the late Elliot Smith, while "Give Judy My Notice" brings in a hint of honky tonk country, and the marching piano of "Sentimental Guy" harks back to '70s pop.

Songs for Silverman will please fans of Folds' rich, harmonic ballads, though it may disappoint those who wish for more pounding piano tracks like “Rockin' The Suburbs” or Ben Folds Five's popular “Jackson Cannery” or “Underground.” Still, there's no denying the power of Folds' hooks, whether he plays them fast or slow. Songs for Silverman is another victory for Folds.

Ben Folds will return to the Chicago area to play at Ravinia on Aug. 10.


Bleed Like Me

"Got something special for my bad boyfriend," Shirley Manson promises on the pounding opening track of Garbage's first album in four years.

It's a perfectly executed tease that will have fans drooling for more.

And Garbage continues to deliver more of its canny mix of sex, rock and bubblegum pop throughout the rest of the disc.

The band's fourth album arrives after a long stretch of difficulty for the band, which saw life changes and illnesses of varying severity impact all of its members (Manson at one point had to have an operation to regain her voice, while drummer/producer Butch Vig — known for producing Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins — battled hepatitis).

When they initially convened to start working on the record, they finished only one song, and then, when the spark and musical agreement were missing, essentially broke up. But when the creative bug started to return months later, they gave it a new go and came out with Bleed Like Me, the most rockin' Garbage album yet.

With Foo Fighters' leader-drummer Dave Grohl guesting on the bombastic "Bad Boyfriend," and the buzzsaw guitars overshadowing the electronic loops on most of the disc's other tracks, Bleed Like Me, finds Garbage ready with an arena-rock stadium batch of tunes for the summer concert trail.

"Right Between the Eyes" batters the strings with a twisted twang, while the lead single, "Why Do You Love Me," steps up the pace and serves up a delicious mix of growling guitar energy with Manson's machine-gun rapid vocal performance.

The album's title track channels Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" as Manson sing-speaks the story of several mixed up characters ("he's trying to figure out if he's a girl or he's a boy") over a two-note guitar lead, and references her own disturbed past as a self-abusive "cutter." She sings "you should see my scars" over and over again at the end of the disturbingly hypnotic song.

"Bleed Like Me" is one of the only "quiet" songs on the album; the next song, "Metal Heart," builds from a subdued vocal into an urgent synth and string verse before launching into a howling guitar and echoing drum break, while in "Sex Is Not the Enemy," the band combines wailing guitars again with a singsong hook to back Manson's diatribe against restrictive moralists: "Sex is not the enemy/a revolution is the solution."

Chock full of pop and radio-ready rock, Bleed Like Me, may be Garbage's most consistently catchy CD yet.