There were a lot of aspects of the Ben Folds Five that made them seem like little more than a series of gimmicks. First there was the name, which was ironic because the group was only a trio. Then there was the fact that they completely jettisoned guitars from their lineup, preferring instead to center their songs around frontman Folds' incredible piano playing. Folds also wrote a lot of jokes into his songs and was sometimes self-consciously goofy (one of the key tracks from their breakout album was called "Song For the Dumped," which contained the chorus "Give me my money back, you b----/ And don't forget my black T-shirt"). But Folds was capable of delivering both pathos and beauty, and he executed that best when Ben Folds Five released their second album Whatever and Ever Amen on this day in 1997.
Formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut in 1995 and scored a minor indie hit with the song "Underground" (which, in a twist, poked fun at the college rock scene). That album contained a number of great moments (including the bouncy "Philosophy" and the heartbreaking "Alice Childress"), but those moments really blossomed on Whatever and Ever Amen. Folds tapped into deep wells of pathos, channeling rage ("One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces"), sadness ("Selfless, Cold and Composed") and unrestrained jubilation ("Kate") through the keys of his piano for a mix that yielded a handful of radio hits.
Folds also revealed himself to be an exquisite storyteller, and the narrative songs on Whatever and Ever Amen — including "Steven's Last Night in Town" and the massive cross-genre hit "Brick," whose heavy rotation video is below — are some of the strongest in Folds' ever-deepening catalog.