"Whatever and Ever Amen," Ben Folds Five's sophomore effort, was remastered and re-released in March of 2005.
I generally don't put much faith in remasters. While I understand the concept behind polishing albums that didn't get the star treatment the first time through because of budget or technology or both, I still can't get past the idea that the record companies are just trying to make me pay for the same CD twice. I was especially wary here because the rawness of the disc was part of the fun - the album was recorded in Ben Folds' living room and there's a warm, fuzzy quality to it that I didn't want to lose for the sake of 'clarity.'
I was relieved to find that this reissue left the quirks intact. Ben's playing of the inside of his piano on Smoke is still as jarring as ever, but you can actually hear him scrape individual strings. You can still hear the phone ring two-thirds of the way though Steven's Last Night in Town, and Evaporated, a song I know intimately enough to charm girls with if there's a set of keys around, a song for which I thought I would break the fingers of any recording engineer who even thought of nudging a single dial, unbelievably sounds better here than on the original - the quiets are slightly quieter and the cello was brought out a tiny bit, but that's it. On the whole, it's a supreme example of what hiring the right engineer can do.
There were a few stylistic changes made, however - the random dialogue from the original recording session that ended out a few of the tracks was bumped to the beginning of the following tracks, which can either be good or extremely annoying depending on one's outlook, and the 'hidden track' was removed in its entirety. Not that you're missing much - the track was just a snip of dialogue, a guy saying 'I got yer hidden track RIGHT HERE! Listen! Ben Folds is a FUCKING ASSHOLE!' I always though it was a bit out of place following Evaporated anyway.
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I realize this is all pretty academic to anyone not hopelessly obsessed with Ben Folds Five, and Sony must've realized that too - they've tacked some extras onto the end of the disc that, while most of them have been floating around the net and on various singles and compilations for quite awhile, are still nice to see on a full release. There are phenomenal (studio) covers of Video Killed the Radio Star and She Don't Use Jelly, as well as a version of Song For The Dumped done entirely in Japanese (except for the screamed "Fuck you, too!" from the first verse and the "You Bitch!" from the chorus, which is just as well) that was previously only available on the Japanese export.
Air, the song they did for the Godzilla soundtrack, makes an appearance too, which is great - it's a highly underrated song. There's a lot of the banter from the recording sessions left intact on these additions, and it's great to hear a group of people having so much fun while they work.
The only major problem I have with this reissue is that these extra songs really disrupt the narrative flow, or at least obfuscate it - it's an album that works well as an album instead of a mere collection of tracks, and jumping from the last official song to Video Killed... feels like a thematic error.
Is it worth it? S'up to you and I'm a bit biased, but it's worth a listen if nothing else. Take it for a test drive, see what you think.