Ben Folds

Songs for Silverman

Once Ben Folds was a crowned prince of snark, with a chip on his shoulder 88-keys wide. This piano man struck out with and at girls, and sat in his black T-shirt writing lyrics skewering "alternative revolution" jerks as he slowly became a peripheral one. No, he didn't lead immediately to a resurgence of Elton John, Billy Joel and Todd Rundgren, but would we have as eagerly accepted Coldplay and Keane without Folds? But resenting him for them is not the issue.

The way Folds' songs showcased figures thrown off by the world revolving around them like a kaleidoscope of inevitable regrets made them seem more like Raymond Carver short stories than pop hits. Folds' best songs are acerbic yet sympathetic, unfettered by cluttered arrangements that only hamper depicting Folds' well-drawn antagonists. Now, after a foray into guitars and unnecessary grit, Folds regroups musically in that core structure with Songs for Silverman — his second, strongest "solo" album but one excessively comfortable with becoming middle-aged.

Throughout Silverman, characters no longer seem as stalled and frenzied. It's as if these were updates to already established Ben Folds fans, save for the standout Elliott Smith tribute "Late." There is nothing wrong with Silverman, likely because there is nothing wrong with happily married father Folds. But to strengthen any upcoming collection Folds needs to look further out even if no longer planning to strike out.

Ben Folds plays 99X Downtown Rocks w/ Red Letter Agent and Linger, Sat., July 30. 6:15-11 p.m. Free. Underground Atlanta, 50 Upper Alabama St. www.99x.com.