1998: Ben Folds Five - Naked Baby Photos

Ah, record label cash-ins. They’re a time-honored tradition in the music industry, from the American Beatles releases in the 60s to the “Special Edition” of Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy that your mom bought at Best Buy yesterday. They were an especially big deal in the 90s, when major labels were snatching up “alternative” bands from smaller labels, leaving indies with vaults full of radio sessions and unwanted outtakes.

Case in point: Ben Folds Five, who put out one LP on Caroline Records before jumping ship to Sony for two more. We don’t know for certain that cashing in was Caroline’s motive, but consider the chronology: Naked Baby Photos came out less than a year after Ben Folds Five’s Sony debut, Whatever And Ever Amen, which went platinum. Hmmmm.

To be fair, however, Naked Baby Photos was apparently done with the band’s involvement, since Folds’ comments grace the album’s liner notes. And to give credit where it’s due, this is a pretty damn good cash-in album. Of course, there are tossed-off songs that are interesting only for showing the band’s personality, but many of the live performances and B-sides are worthy additions to the band’s canon.

Leadoff track “Eddie Walker” -- which Folds notes was “the first song to click in rehearsal” -- is a charming picture of the young band. It contains all the trademarks of the Ben Folds Five sound: the quiet introduction, the dramatic build, the distorted bass freakout. The melody, too, is quintessential Folds, fit for a Broadway musical or vintage Elton John album. Other studio highlights include “Emaline” (which would later resurface on Ben Folds Live), a rare Ben Folds Five song to feature guitar; the 7-inch version of “Jackson Cannery” that convinced Caroline to sign the band; the goofy “Tom & Mary,” which foreshadows songs like “Sports & Wine” and “Kate.”

Live and alternate versions of fan favorites are also included here, and they work well enough: the KCRW rendition of “Alice Childress” (which Folds notes was the terrified band’s first radio performance); a live version of the pitch-perfect 90s “non-conformity” parody “Underground” (“Hand me my nose ring. Show me the mosh pit.”); and live takes of “Philosophy” and “Boxing,” both highlights of the band’s first album. The album's real gem, however, is the live cover of Built To Spill’s “Twin Falls,” a song that unexpectedly lends itself to a piano trio. “This song is beautiful and at the time we’d have been happy to be a Built To Spill cover band,” notes Folds in the liner notes.

Where the compilation falters is in the band’s wacky antics, such as the white-guys-rapping “For Those Of Y’all Who Wear Fanny Packs,” which doesn’t hold up after repeated listens, especially given its six-minute runtime. Likewise, the live metal parody “Ultimate Sacrifice” falls embarrassingly flat. (Though its sibling, “Satan Is My Master,” works because it’s a piano ballad with “Satan” in the title. That whole “fine line between clever and stupid” thing? So true.)

So what lesson can we learn here? Don’t document your hip-hop parodies if you’ve got a song like “Boxing.” There’s no need.

1. Eddie Walker
2. Jackson Cannery (original 7" version)
3. Emaline
4. Alice Childress (live on KCRW)
5. Dick Holster
6. Tom & Mary
7. For Those Of Y'All Who Wear Fanny Packs
8. Bad Idea (original demo version)
9. Underground (live)
10. The Ultimate Sacrifice (live)
11. Satan Is My Master (live)
12. Julianne (live)
13. Song For The Dumped (live)
14. Philosophy (live)
15. Twin Falls (live)
16. Boxing (live)


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

Most Read