Following the commercial success of Whatever & Ever Amen, and having “Fear of Pop” out of his system, Ben Folds was feeling mighty confident. Why shouldn’t he have? He had an amazing jazz drummer in Jessee, and a powerhouse in Sledge, who have laid out three amazing albums. He had conquered one on his own, and was able to create anything he wanted! Or could he have created anything he wanted.
Attention must be brought to the irony that in popular music the demand for repetition is the emphasis as supposed to innovation. Ben Fold’s in his album’s previous had gained entry by playing off of the predecessors of piano rock. Billy Joel, and Elton John clearly in both of the rock & roll sensibilities, but more or less a formalist approach to the influences of rock. Ragtime, lunge jazz, and country western were prominent in his development; the majority of his influences as a young child were Motown artists the likes of Stevie Wonder. When you hear Ben Folds Five, Naked Baby Photo’s, and Whatever & Ever Amen, essentially the styles of the albums are legitimately the same.
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is far different then any of the previous installments. For this reason alone, critics have incessantly passed it off as a bad album; this is in spite of genuinely containing the best musicianship from the band since their initial forming. I may even be able to argue it is a much stronger orchestral effort than “The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind.” I say this on principal that the theme of “Messner” was not to appease a “popular” audience, rather to reflect on the despondency that were his emotions; as supposed to nervously smiling, laughing, and joking it off. His candidness rather than being rewarded was scathed and insulted by the very hipsters who sang along with songs like “Underground.” Still Ben took that album on the chin and later retreated to a solo career, so not to bother experimenting reflecting his emotions with his friends to support.
The album begins with “Narcolepsy”, a track that implements classical music structure, only to break into very slight breaks that jazz or fluctuate the dynamic of the orchestration. Sledge using distortion on his bass is not a new trick, however finding the appropriate time to use distortion in the composition speaks volumes. As you are lulled away buy a soft voice, something is needed to shake you from drifting off. An amazing effect played consummately to simulate the musical, physical and literal theme of narcolepsy.
“Don’t Change Your Plans” while on the surface feels like a common composition, is created with the depth of a Burt Bacharach song. To hear emotion in Ben’s voice that is soft and still with conviction was a missing component in his performance. Regularly it is all or nothing so far as making a dynamic song. Tracks like “Selfless Cold & Composed” from “Whatever & Ever Amen” are poetic but drowned by the orchestration. “Don’t” remains dynamically clean still the voice manages to bleed through the instrumentation. Particularly on the last time he pleads his case. It is absolutely heart wrenchingly honest to see him put himself out there; and to do it not for him-self but for love of another.
“Mess” while country western and upbeat, is musically playful as if to play mockery to this nature placing him in the forlornness that is his reproach. He simply knows he is no angel, and the tickling of the keys is more or less a poke or provocation rather than an aid.
[LISTEN] Ben Folds Five Full Album Compilation
“Army” is the break that reflects the style of the previous albums. It reflects on the uncertainty and flakiness in being able to make decisions, or fit a mold. It is about running out of options. It really is one of their top two rockin’ tunes through the whole discography, if second only to “One Angry Dwarf.” Still this is a much better composition.
“Your Redneck Past” utters shades of “Fear Of Pop” primarily with the synthesizers, it seems extremely bossa nova and far less redneck… I guess he gave us another small stint of humor to ease the tension mounted from the beginning of the album.
“Regrets” I won’t lie; is a legitimately lazy track on piano. It is more a track that highlights Jessee’s ability to break the monotony that hardly comes off in Ben’s individual vocals. It seems like it is a lounge track where it is overly cool on the surface, but the pulse is way too fast. The character lay in the end of the song when it breaks down into a flamboyantly large full orchestra blues breakdown. The song is great; but it takes patience as it comes off as whining in its initial listening.
[WATCH] Ben Folds Five Album Release TV Commercial (1999)
“Lullabye” on the first listen came off as a far more suiting song than “Brick” as a remorseful song. “Brick” was juvenile thinking about the impending repercussions coming to him and his then girlfriend. This track like “Magic” is to lull his passed baby to a sleep he knows she would never rise from… It carries similar narrative structure to previous songs as a narrative. Musically it is brilliant; it ties in hints of “Rock A Bye Baby” and parts of the piano cry blues. It is so humbling and saddening, still unbelievably beautiful. It was quite possibly one of the most emotionally draining (In a good way) ballads I have ever heard. I had no intention to go track by track, but seriously, this album is not given it’s due. I hope I could encourage you my beloved audience to play this masterpiece of an album. They are basically giving it away for free…
What does this album mean to you? What kind of times does it take you back to? Facebook comment below!