Throughout Ben Folds' long career, he has tried to infuse his own brand of humor into music that reflects many of real life events occurring in his life. His album release of Way to Normal is no exception to this history. In particular, Folds' song "Effington" is a fun depiction of perhaps an unpleasant moment in his life.
"Effington" is in reference to a town in Illinois (as is the "Normal" of the albums title). Folds here creatively and effectively uses "Effington" as a double entendre for both the location described above, but also a place in which people "do it too" implying that perhaps one of the problems towards the end of his most recent marriage was a lack of relations between he and his estranged wife.
The original version of the song is quite fluid. It opens with a nice a cappella rendition of the bridge "If there's a God he's laughing at us, and our football team" and transitions into the opening verse with piano, bass and drums. The simplicity of the instrumentation allows the text of the song to speak for itself. Folds is not "electronically" contrived, but rely a great deal on the piano as the fundamental "sound" of his group.
However, this is not the version of the song that I would recommend. On his album University A Cappella Folds actually makes his own a cappella arrangement of "Effington" that I think listeners will find to be far superior to the original. The fact that all the accompaniment and percussion is contrived via the voice gives the song a very unique sound. Also, the fact that this version was contrived by Folds gives one a unique perceptive into the creative mind of the song writer when deciding to branch out into other areas previously owned by groups like Inside-out and Tonic Sol Fa. The use of vocal percussion gives the song a driving beat that the percussion of the original cannot match. Folds is able to make a play on the original opening of the song by having children try to sing the opening lines. They are unable to make it past the word "God" before they begin to laugh, which in a way is very representative of the song as a whole. Also, the creative use of text to keep the accompanying vocal textures interesting allows Folds to emphasize portions of the song that were not necessarily done in the original, bringing perhaps a more important meaning to the original while enhancing the comedy and playfulness that Folds to keenly is able to incorporate into his music.
The playfulness of Folds is most apparent in the text of his songs. This can be seen in the opening lines of the song where he shows us the blatant use of the double entendre by stating "Effington would be a wonderful Effing place". He is also able to creatively express the dilemma he is facing when he says "I could change my name, grow a beard, start a family, Or I could just keep on movin' on till I get to Normal" Folds shows us the ultimate issue with his estranged wife and their lack of intimacy when he finally comes to the realization that "that's what 'Normal' people do...'Normal' people do it too". One of his more brilliant moments in the song, is his ability to point out how absurd we all are when it comes to the most unimportant parts of our life saying "If there's a God he is laughing at us and our football team". Here Folds is insinuating, and correctly so, that God has far better things to do than trouble himself with mundane things such as the outcome of sporting events. Perhaps this also speaks volumes to the relationships he is referring to in this song.
Ben Folds fan or not (which I most assuredly am not) one still has to respect the ability of this musician to bring everyday issues to the forefront through his use of music and real life experiences. It is no wonder that this album topped out at no. 11 which is the highest any of Folds' albums have been able to make it on the Billboard charts. "Effington" is a playful look into the soul of a destroyed man looking for answers...a look that is worth a listen!