In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Ben Folds can write a damned pretty song when he puts his mind to it, and “Missing The War,” from the Ben Folds Five album Whatever And Ever Amen, just might be the prettiest of them all. A hastily sketched portrait of two people at opposite ends of what seems to be a very difficult relationship, “Missing The War” fills in the gaps between those spare images—clothes strewn around the floor, a man driving home “pissed and beaten,” sunlight filtering in through a window—with a lush arrangement and the Beach Boys-esque harmonies of Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee, who pop in behind Folds’ lead vocals every time the song needs just a bit of uplift.
The trick to Folds’ best songs is how blissfully hopeful they sound, even as the characters within them are beaten down by life and have nothing to hope for. “Missing The War” might be the ultimate example of this. “I’m missing the war,” Folds repeats over and over in the chorus, as Jessee and Sledge drop in and out with their support—but it isn’t immediately clear what that war might be. It’s that other thing, just over there, that might make everything better, if only you could catch up to it. It’s that visceral, better-lived life that remains just out of reach. A war is a strange thing to reach for, but the narrator of “Missing The War” wants nothing more than to be out of this cozy domesticity and amid the bombshells. The tension between this yearning and Folds’ tender melody provides the dissonance that makes the song go. It could all tumble apart, could all feel too twee or slight, but it keeps building and building, pointing toward the inevitable comedown.