Ben Folds Five Reunion

As reported by Stereogum,  Ben Folds Five reunite tomorrow night for a show in their home town to play their final release, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner,  in its entirety. It’s arguably the high point of Folds’ career: the solo releases that followed lacked its consistency of tone and concept and never held its emotional resonance. It felt like Folds had slipped and fallen into the middle of the road.

Messner is a more melancholy take on Ben Folds Five’s irony-laden, catchy alt. pop, traces of which remain in ‘Army’, which details the adolescent desire to escape small town malaise by any means possible, even joining the military. It’s only a gesture towards a typical single though, resplendent as it is with horns and harmonies, fitting in with the reoccuring musical motifs of the album. 

Predecessor Whatever and Ever Amen closed with the heartbreaking ‘Evaporated’, a song that detailed regret, loss and a numbness to both, dying to a whisper. Messner opens with ‘Narcolepsy’, which while thematically similar, bursts into an orchestrated explosion of baroque ’70s melodrama which resurfaces on the Darren Jessee-penned ‘Magic’. ‘Narcolepsy’ is followed by the more measured ‘Don’t Change Your Plans’, which captures that stomach-churning feeling of leaving someone you love behind because “destiny is calling and won’t hold”.

Part of Messner’s enduring appeal for me is how well it works as a suite of songs, with lyrical and musical themes reoccuring throughout. The album closes as it opens with a song about sleep, reinforcing the album’s themes of displacement and withdrawal from the world. 

Ben Folds Five have never attracted approval from the hipster set and were dismissed as lightweight ’90s pop for college students. It’s a shame, because as Messner shows, they were capable of crafting classic pop music. I urge you to scour the bargain bins for a copy.

Video: Army (embedding disabled, boo!)

An interesting curiosity from the same period as this record is the retro experimentation of Folds’s solo project Fear of Pop Vol. 1. It largely consists of Folds messing around in the studio, but is notable for ‘In Love’ which features a  monologue from William Shatner about the rise and fall of a relationship. Brilliant.

Stream: In Love


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One Response to Ben Folds Five Reunion

  1. James says:

    Ben Folds Five are one of my all-time favourite bands. I saw them live 3 times on the ‘Messner’ tour, including a VH1 TV special in London. And whilst ‘Whatever And Ever Amen’ is my favourite album, the songs from ‘Messner’ were awesome live. They’re one of those bands where it’s hard to pick one album over the other, despite ‘Messner’ being very different from the others. It’s definitely a darker, more epic sounding album, with a lot less sarcasm – I think part of this is down to BF5 abandoning their previous method of recording in a studio they built in an old house and entering a more conventional recording studio, in order to make a bigger, vaster sounding record.

    BF5 had melodies to kill for and whilst Ben’s solo stuff isn’t quite as consistent, and granted has trodden dangerously near MOR, I think he still has that touch of class when it comes to writing out and out pop songs. Darren Jesse’s solo efforts aren’t half bad either!

    If there’s one band I wish I could jack it all in and fly to America to see re-unite, it’s Ben Folds Five. Here’s hoping the MySpace re-union show surfaces in full online sometime soon!

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