Music Reviews


Ben Folds Five

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Sony/550 Music

Some bands go through their short existence churning out song after song of the same exact feel and mentality, only to finally meet their grave when the “next big thing” comes out and the outfit’s sound just “gets old.” Considering Ben Folds Five is, however, like nothing else the music scene has ever heard, they’re already one step ahead of the game. We’ve heard the angry side of them, the thought-provoking melodies they can create, love, hatred, melancholy, goofy pop, outrageous covers, and roughly everything in-between. So when the hype around The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner came with rumors that it was a completely different sound than what the band had ever put together before… was it really much of a surprise? It’s not like their first three albums were very run-of-the-mill.

Bassist Robert Sledge said they wanted, above all, to put out a “pretty album.” If that’s all they wanted, they succeeded with flying colors. If they wanted to put out an album that could make the listener laugh, cry, reminisce about past loves and regretful situations, hug their neighbor, and feel like they just walked out of a tear-jerking love movie with a happy ending, then they succeeded in that too. There isn’t a foul note in all ten songs (eleven, if you count an answering machine message from Ben’s father over a very Fear of Pop-like jam entitled “Your Most Valuable Possession”) on Reinhold , and the beauty of this collection of tunes will astound hardcore fans and “Brickies” alike.

Opening up with a piano number that sounds like it came out of Broadway, “Narcolepsy” soon erupts into a chaos of bass and drums, only to drop back down and let the speaker share his story of sleeping through life. Next comes “Don’t Change Your Plans,” a tune that could possibly be the band’s most charming number to date. A musical tip to Burt Bacharach, the heart-felt tune is about a man torn between his unexplained feelings to pursue the unknown and a woman he loves. With lines like “I loved you before I met you, and I met you just in time, cuz there was nothing left” and a quick flugelhorn bridge, the charm and semi-altered instrumentation serves as a prefect preview for things to come.

The album includes all kinds of various instruments, such as some Squirrel Nut Zippers members on horns and the inclusion of synthesizers, strings, an upright piano, and a gong. The majority of it is highly emotional, to the tune of their last album’s “Evaporated,” but the band’s ability to rock comes out strong on both the album’s first single, “Army,” and its sequential track, “Your Redneck Past.” I won’t pretend to have been slightly surprised when I heard this record, for it really does take a new direction from the last efforts. But after the novelty of Ben Folds Five with new toys wore off, what was left was a beautiful piece of musical achievement. Some have said that the boys have “grown up”… I’d prefer to say they’ve evolved.

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