Irgendwo stand mal geschrieben, Ben Folds sei die Kasperle-Ausgabe von Billy Joel. Und da ist schon auch was dran. Spätestens seit seiner Cover-Version „Bitches Ain’t Shit“ hat sich der Pianoman in die Herzen gespielt. Seine bisherigen Solo-Arbeiten zeigten eine große Bandbreite von 1a-Singer-Songwritertum über gradlinigen Piano-Rock bis hin zu eben jenen spassbetonten Pop-Experimenten. Nach „Songs for Silverman“ – das insgesamt stärker an seine Ben-Folds-Five-Zeit erinnert, bringt der mittlerweile 41-Jährige Amerikaner nun sein drittes Album heraus.

„Way To Normal“ springt allerdings – anders als der Titel vermuten lässt – wieder quietschfidel ins kalte Wasser. Gleich Track 1 – der zweifelsfrei die nächsten Jahre jede seiner Liveshows eröffnen wird – spielt sich frei vom Vorwurf, zu 40-Jährig zu klingen. So geht es dann wirklich munter weiter. Bisweilen geht das auf die Nerven, weshalb „Way To Normal“ sicher auch nicht in Dauerrotation gehört werden kann.

Aber zwischen den ganzen Spirenzien verstecken sich Aha-Momente, die es in sich haben. Zum Beispiel Single Nummer 1. Regina Spektor begleitet ihn da bei „You Don’t Know Me“ – untypisch instrumentiert mit Orchestral-Hits, die einen kurz in den HipHop irreführen, dann der Refrain, der eher nach einer guten Bridge klingt. Sehr sonderbar. Und trotzdem sehr hartnäckig.

Der absolute Höhepunkt ist dann die Power-Balade. „Cologne“ heisst sie. Eine ausladene Pianolandschaft erstreckt sich da, sacht und gefühlvoll aufgebaut. Mit dem No-Bullshit-Schlagzeug als Spannungsbogen-Grundierung (jedenfalls bei der Album-Version). Mit Geigen aus dem Himmel. Dieser Song hat alles, was eine Ballade haben muss. Es ist mindestens fünf Jahre her, dass ich einen derart perfekten Pop-Song gehört habe. Das liegt am Arrangement. Am Piano. An Ben Folds-Stimme. Und nicht zuletzt an der Summe dieser Teile. Das YouTube-Video hier braucht ein wenig bis es sich geladen hat. Das Warten lohnt sich aber.

Das ganze Album scheint um diesen zentralen Song herumkonzipiert zu sein. Er sitzt ruhig, unverrückbar und unverrückt in der Mitte und hält die manchmal in den musikalischen Flachwitz zu entgleiten drohenden Songs wie „Bitch went nuts“ zusammen. Um seinem Können noch einmal Nachdruck zu verleihen, platziert Ben Folds dann am Ende des Albums noch einmal ein weiteres Streberstück exquisiten Song-Writings. „Kylie From Conneticut“ beendet das Album, dessen Widerspruch aus locker-aus-der-Hüfte-Genie und Pop-Clownerie ein paar kräuselnde Falten auf der Stirn hinterlässt. Aber auch ein seeliges Lächeln.

7/10

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