1999, Music

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999) by Ben Folds Five

For most of my adult life I’ve been only vaguely aware of Ben Folds and his band. I think he had a hit or two I heard of and many years ago I managed to listen to their reunion album but it apparently made no impression on me. Despite sort of bemoaning the death of piano-based rock music, I apparently decided to ignore basically the only person making piano-based rock music. Go figure.

Folds has a good but quirky sense of melody, which makes his songs both catchy enough and interesting enough to overcome some limitations (for example, his singing voice). He also has ambitions, which is something I really appreciate because this record without ambition might be just another power pop record. And his lyrics are good enough, sometimes better than that. He’s a pretty good songwriter.

But for me, the appeal is really the arrangements – I have always been a bit of a sucker for piano-based arrangements in rock if only because they really stand out in a genre so long dominated by electric guitar. But these arrangements play with volume and tempo often even within the briefest songs here, which gives the record a variety I don’t think it would have if they didn’t play around so much within their relatively distinct sound.

There’s also just a titch of an edge here at times – though not often – which livens it up. It’s a reminder that pianos can still rock, which is something seemingly everyone else has forgotten.

I hear that this is considered their best album, despite the sales. That doesn’t surprise me.


All songs written by Ben Folds except as indicated.

  1. “Narcolepsy” – 5:24
  2. “Don’t Change Your Plans” – 5:11
  3. “Mess” – 4:03
  4. “Magic” (Darren Jessee) – 4:02
  5. “Hospital Song” – 2:05
  6. “Army” – 3:25
  7. “Your Redneck Past” – 3:43
  8. “Your Most Valuable Possession” (Ben Folds/Darren Jessee/Robert Sledge/Dean Folds/Caleb Southern) – 1:55
  9. “Regrets” – 4:07
  10. “Jane” – 2:42
  11. “Lullabye” (Ben Folds/Anna Goodman) – 3:53
  • Ben Folds – vocals, piano and keyboards
  • Robert Sledge – electric bass, synthesizer, double bass and background vocals
  • Darren Jessee – drums, percussion and background vocals

Additional personnel:

  • Antoine Silverman – violin on 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11
  • Mark Feldman – violin on 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11
  • Lorenza Ponce – violin on 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11
  • Jane Scarpantoni – cello on 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11
  • Ken Mosher – alto saxophone, baritone saxophone on 6, 11
  • Tom Maxwell – tenor saxophone on 6, 11
  • Paul Shapiro – tenor saxophone on 6
  • Frank London – trumpet on 6
  • John Mark Painter – flugelhorn on 1, 2, 6, valve trombone on 6
  • Dean Folds – answering machine message on “Your Most Valuable Possession”

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