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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The American songwriter Ben Folds has a new album called "Way to Normal," and NPR's Vince Pearson says it showcases Folds' talent for songs about breakups.

VINCE PEARSON: I've been listening to Ben Folds since his early days with Ben Folds Five. And the man has written a lot of breakup songs. Some are angry.

(Soundbite of song "Song for the Dumped")

Mr. BEN FOLDS (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) So you wanted to take a break.

PEARSON: Others are sad.

(Soundbite of song "Selfless, Cold, and Confused")

Mr. FOLDS: (Singing) I said what you wanted to hear...

PEARSON: But they're always heartfelt. Folds is known for zany, upbeat performances, but I've always liked him best when he sounds down in the dumps.

Mr. FOLDS: I think everyone can kind of relate to breakups.

PEARSON: Ben Folds.

Mr. FOLDS: Breakups of any kind mean moving on to have a new life. So that has always been attractive to me. I joke about it. I say, well, I got to write a couple of breakup songs for this record.

PEARSON: And on this record, "Way to Normal," there's an impending breakup song, an angry finger-pointing breakup song, and what we'll call the long-distance, space-age breakup song.

(Soundbite of song "Cologne")

Mr. FOLDS: (Singing) Here in Cologne, I know I said it wrong.

PEARSON: "Cologne" is a heartbreaking ballad about a couple ending it over the phone. They count backwards NASA style until the moment of truth.

(Soundbite of song "Cologne")

Mr. FOLDS: (Singing) Four, three, two, one, I'm letting you go.

PEARSON: Another standout track is a playful duet with Regina Spektor called "You Don't Know Me."

(Soundbite of song "You Don't Know Me")

Mr. FOLDS: (Singing) We're damned by the existential moment, When we saw the couple in the coma, And it was we who were the cliche, But we carried on anyways.

PEARSON: What makes these tunes compelling for me is the tension. Folds describes hurt feelings with irreverence and humor, just as people do in real life when discussing something painful. Again, Folds.

Mr. FOLDS: If you have a conversation with someone over lunch, they're going to be sarcastic for a moment, they're going to be funny for a moment, and then they might get really serious for a moment. And all those things, you put them together, and you get a whole person out of it. In record making, people kind of want you just to pick one. I just - I've just never disciplined myself that way.

PEARSON: When you follow an artist over many years, it's a little like a romantic relationship. There are a lot of ups and downs. But Folds' odes to love and love lost are what keep me coming back. Vince Pearson, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song "Landed")

Mr. FOLDS: (Singing) We'd hit the bottom, I thought it was my fault. And in a way I guess it was. I'm just now finding out What it was all about. We moved to the West Coast, Away from everyone...

INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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