The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner – Ben Folds Five (1999); Track-by-Track review

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

After throwing a brick through the mainstream window and recording a song for Godzilla, the pressure was building…

The band had just completed a gruelling radio PR tour explaining over and over how there actually only three members…

…and expectation was high that a new LP would produce several hit songs conflating angry piano jives and narrative songwriting.

But Whatever And Ever Amen was just a BELOVED SNIFF of BEN FOLDS FIVE (#anagram); the tortured truth is much more complex.

A nervous subject awaits journalistic examination; identity, purpose and anxiety flow in an unauthorised biography…

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner pictured with several unauthorised biographies.

(song titles in caps)

Vagaries of NARCOLEPSY was a popular topic in the late 90s: the fear that we might sleep through the exciting bits or collapse out of love.

Autumnal decay and the tyranny of distance that success wields play havoc in the beautiful, piano and trumpet piece DON’T CHANGE YOUR PLANS.

Happy beats and a catchy chorus bury guilt deep down into an unsent apology full of vacant, dusty imagery and decidedly unMESSy hamonies.

A maudlin exegesis of the clouds of a spotty mind – what the Welsh call ‘hiraeth’; the painful mourning for a MAGICal past of lovers lost.

Ben descends to jazz in HOSPITAL SONG, which is naturally the worst song on the album. Such a selfish style of music.

Under pressure from record labels, BF5 released ARMY as the lead single/video: a catchy enough cover version of Angry Dwarf. Peaked at #65.

Kids on ritalin: UnthBio of the ReiMess upswings on the flipside with the scratchy, samply North Carolinian condemnation YOUR REDNECK PAST.

An answering machine (remember them?) message is played as an intermission: are you looking after YOUR MOST VALUABLE POSSESSION (your mind).

REGRETS explains the concept, that upright bass player Darren circulated fake IDs with Reinhold’s name around his home town. Crashing finale.

Brick made BF5 big but most of their slow songs are actually quite meandering. JANE overcomes this malaise with an injection of welcome pace.

Ben takes a midnight flight in stormy weather on the varied, finely-crafted and soporific (in a good way) LULLABYE. Time for a snooze!

(TUBORM is a slightly uneven album that can get lost in the background but I love its sombre, autumnal mood and it is BF5’s finest work.)

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