The Second Disc

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Reissue Theory: Ben Folds Five, “The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on well-known albums of the past and the reissues they could someday see. With a new album from a modern-day piano man released today, we take a look back at one of his best classic albums.

Today is a day pissed-off geeky guys like myself love celebrating: Ben Folds has released a new album. Lonely Avenue makes one of his most intriguing LPs since going solo with Rockin’ the Suburbs nine years ago. This time, the lyrics Folds sings are not his own, but lines written by British author Nick Hornby, the man behind great novels like High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch and others. The album is earning praise after a handful of uneven affairs by Folds, often considered to be an indie-rock hybrid of Elton John and Randy Newman, meaning that Folds may have finally found his own Bernie Taupin.

Of course, what a lot of Folds fans may be overlooking (mostly because his audience tends to skew on the younger side – odd, considering his presence as a musician for some 15 years) is the work he did before flying solo, with his band Ben Folds Five. One of the greatest walking contradictions of the post-grunge era, BF5 was a trio – bassist Robert Sledge, drummer Darren Jessee and singer-pianist Folds – without a guitar in sight. They walked a fine line between melodic, ’70s AM-radio-ready pop and messy, feedback-laden punk rock (“for sissies,” they were quick to add) for much of their career, particularly their major-label debut (and sophomore LP) Whatever and Ever Amen (1997), which spun off an unlikely Top 40 hit in “Brick,” a lump-in-the-throat ballad about the true story of a teenaged Folds and his girlfriend getting an abortion.

WAEA was expanded and reissued by Epic in 2005, as Folds’ second LP Songs for Silverman was released. The Second Disc also outlined a fantastic way to have commemorated the band’s self-titled indie debut, some 15 years after it was released, in one of our first Reissue Theory posts. With a new creative high point for Folds in stores today, it’s high time to revisit the Five’s last, and possibly best, studio album, Reissue Theory-style. Read on after the jump.

The two years between Whatever and Ever Amen and 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner were interesting times for Ben Folds Five. The trio went on a heavy-duty touring schedule, punctuated by Folds’ first solo outings (an experimental album under the pseudonym “Fear of Pop,” which marked his first, crazy collaboration with William Shatner). By the time they reconvened with producer Caleb Southern for a third album, they were feeling a bit more grandiose. The low-fi nature of WAEA, which was recorded in a Chapel Hill house Folds owned, was replaced by studio sheen and string and horn arrangments. Folds’ knack for creating character vignettes in song initially panned out as a loose concept record. The final record spanned a variety of styles, from Burt Bacharach on “Don’t Change Your Plans” (the band had performed at a live tribute concert to Bacharach the year before) to Queen (“Narcolepsy”) and even back to the Fear of Pop sound on “Your Redneck Past” and “Your Most Valuable Possession.”

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner was a well-crafted, interesting album. Naturally, it stiffed. It stiffed so bad that it led to the whimper of a dissolution of Ben Folds Five – a shame, but still an enduring mark of the band’s creative breadth. And when the Five reunited for one night in 2008, they played the album from start to finish. Such a critical turnaround, combined with Folds’ fan base, would make for a great Legacy Edition title someday. (Folds himself has even expressed interest in a title, though this was before he left Sony for Nonesuch Records with the new album.) Here’s how it might look.

Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (Epic/550 Music, 1999)

Disc 1: Original LP and B-sides

  1. Narcolepsy
  2. Don’t Change Your Plans
  3. Mess
  4. Magic
  5. Hospital Song
  6. Army
  7. Your Redneck Past
  8. Your Most Valuable Possession
  9. Regrets
  10. Jane
  11. Lullabye
  12. Birds
  13. Leather Jacket
  14. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (Live)
  15. Barrytown

Tracks 1-11 from Epic/550 LP BK 69808, 1999
Tracks 12-13 from “Army” 7″ single  – Epic 36 79186, 1999
Track 14 from Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night (NK2 10008, 1998)
Track 15 from Me, Myself & Irene: Music from the Motion Picture (Elektra 62512-2, 2000)

Disc 2: Reinhold Messner Live, University of Chapel Hill, South Carolina – 9/18/2008 and Outtakes

  1. Narcolepsy
  2. Don’t Change Your Plans
  3. Mess
  4. Magic
  5. Hospital Song
  6. Army
  7. Your Redneck Past
  8. Your Most Valuable Possession
  9. Regrets
  10. Jane
  11. Lullabye
  12. Don’t Change Your Plans (Original Long Version) *
  13. Break Up at Food Court *
  14. Carrying Cathy *
  15. Tell Me What I Did *
  16. Emelia Bright *

Tracks 12-16 are known outtakes from the TUBORM sessions and aborted third album sessions in 2000. None of them have been bootlegged, but “Tell Me What I Did” and “Emelia Bright” were played live and “Carrying Cathy” was later re-recorded for Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs (Epic, 2001).

Written by Mike Duquette

September 28, 2010 at 15:25

4 Responses

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  1. I don’t know about his best…I’ll personally take the S/T or WAEA over this album.

    Can’t wait to hear the new one.


    September 28, 2010 at 15:58

    • I agree about this not being the best — but any outtakes from the sessions, like the long “Don’t Change Your Plans” would be nice to have. (But let’s keep it a single disc, shall we?)


      September 28, 2010 at 20:52

  2. This would be amazing


    August 7, 2011 at 15:09

    • Chapel Hill is in North Carolina, Ben Folds Five is from North Carolina


      October 19, 2012 at 12:37

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