April 1999
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Music Review -- Ben Folds Five The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

by Ginger Nance

Availible April 27

With The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five's third release (not counting the b-sides/rarities compliation Naked Baby Photos), the Chapel Hill trio has pulled out all the stops and produced an album that will probably shock fans more used to their upbeat, irreverential brand of smartass pop. The band again worked with producer Caleb Southern, but has thrown in an orchestra (including horns players from Squirrel Nut Zippers) for good measure. TUBORM, as it has already been dubbed, is a beautiful, dramatic, classically-influenced album in the style of old rock operas.

It kicks off with the sweeping, Queen-inspired tune "Narcolepsy" and then rolls into "Don't Change Your Plans," a lilting, Bacharach-esque reflection on relationships, past and present. The third track, "Mess," is the standout. In this song, Folds is apparently taking a good hard look at himself, as testified by the haunting lyrics: "My innocence has all but faded/All alone as I've learned to be with this mess I have made." Die-hard Ben Folds Five fans will recognize the enchanting, Darren Jessee-penned tune "Magic," a tribute to a friend of the drummer's that passed away.

Ben Folds Five haven't entirely forgotten their roots, as the first single from the album, "Army," reminds us. Any song that mentions a mullet and Chick-Fil-A, a southeastern fast food chain, shouldn't be mistaken as anything but Ben Folds Five, and neither should "Your Most Valuable Possession," an instrumental piece set over a hilarious answering-machine message by the elder Mr. Folds. "Jane" proves once again that Folds can pen a tune about a girl with a monosyllabic name, and "Lullabye," co-written with longtime collaborator Anna Goodman, would be wonderful if the lyrics didn't mention James Earl Jones.

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is not your typical Ben Folds Five album, but I don't think I would have wanted it to be. Instead, the listener is rewarded with a grandiose yet amazingly intimate album that combines the best of the band's old sound while introducing the new.

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