Don’t be misled by the mysterious title of Ben Folds Five latest album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. It plays the same game as the band’s name, which implies that there are five members in the band when actually there are only three. Why they named their fourth release after a man who climbed Mt. Everest twenty years ago will remain a mystery. Ben Folds, the front man of the band, is an expert pianist and an emotional yet comical songwriter. The album falls directly in place in the evolution of his songwriting ability, with one especially notable distinction. He shies slightly away lyrically and explores some other instrumental possibilities. A small orchestra of violins, saxophones, keyboard effects, and the occasional kettledrum can be heard along with the usual drum and bass. As for the guitar, it’s still not included.
The first explosive track, “Narcolepsy,” will probably be the first single off of the album, with “Army” being the runner-up. “Narcolepsy” reminds me of a theatrical production, the way Folds so dramatically spills his emotions. “Army” is quite the opposite, a rockin’ tune with lines such as, “Well I thought about the army/ Dad says son you’re fucking high.” To wrap up the album there is the appropriately titled “Lullaby,” with such soft tones that it really could sing you to sleep.
If you don’t like passionate songs about love and life, you may not be interested in what Folds has to say, but you may not be able to pass up the music so easily. The catchy melodies and carefree charm of Ben Folds Five leaves you wanting to listen to the cd repeatedly. On the other hand, some of the tedious shouts from the background vocals seem a little too generic. For those who have never heard Ben Folds Five, the best way to describe them is very John Lennon-like, with a modern pop framework, and a touch of upbeat jazz. To categorize the band is hard because of the diversity in the music. The most recent issue of CMJ magazine pictures a cartoon of Ben Folds Five on the cover as superheroes “making the world safe for pop music.” I can just about guarantee anyone interested in quality music will not be disappointed with this album.
+ matt crafts