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The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner

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Audio CD, April 27, 1999
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Editorial Reviews


Simultaneously challenging and accessible, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is a song cycle about death and dying, people, relationships, optimism, innocence--you name it. On his first two albums, Ben Folds was quick to toss off bombs of blame (most notably on the vitriolic "Song for the Dumped"), but here he aims most of his criticism at the mirror. On the wondrously snarky "Redneck Past" he sings, "My ex-wives all despise me / try to put it all behind me / but my redneck past is nipping at my heels." Apparently he doesn't have a chip on his piano any more. The production is lush and ornate, with strings and horns embellishing Folds's usual quota of to-die-for hooks (which he seems to dash off as effortlessly as postcards from the beach). An obvious point of reference is Pet Sounds, but Ben Folds Five widen their scope to also include hints of Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, and even Queen, whose influence is front and center on the bombastic opener "Narcolepsy," a virtual homage to "Bohemian Rhapsody." Other highlights include "Army," a hilariously detailed indie-rock answer to Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." --David Menconi


A significant development...underneath, it's still the BFF in all their ragged, all-boys-together glory, it's just that bit better. -- Mojo

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
listen  1. Narcolepsy 5:24$1.29  Buy MP3 
listen  2. Don't Change Your Plans 5:10$1.29  Buy MP3 
listen  3. Mess 4:02$1.29  Buy MP3 
listen  4. Magic 4:02$1.29  Buy MP3 
listen  5. Hospital Song (A Cappella) 2:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  6. Army 3:22$1.29  Buy MP3 
listen  7. Your Redneck Past 3:42$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  8. Your Most Valuable Possession 1:55$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  9. Regrets 4:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen10. Jane 2:41$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen11. Lullabye 3:52$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 27, 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony
  • ASIN: B00000IMYT
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,773 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

As soon as I listened to this CD, I loved song after song.
Meg Risso
I love the rest of the album and, as with all of Ben Folds Five CD's, I like to listen to it all the way through.
Chad A. Lauterbach
Although it is still very good--and was a single--there are other songs on the album that definitely outdo it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By E. Callaway on September 21, 2003
Format: Audio CD
This is easily the finest album that Ben Folds Five ever made. Like many records considered "a Classic," there are few songs that stand alone as being extremely powerful, though as a whole it is a masterpiece. Not that this trio has ever been known for making happy music, but this record is downright somber at times. The tracks are interlaced with one another, with single phrases of one song, being the main subject of the next. Going from track to track there is a coherence seldom found in popular music.
While an amazing range of emotions are expressed throughout the album, regret is a central theme. Regretting choices that were made and regretting the choices that passed him by, the character that Ben creates is amazingly introspective. There is little of the sometimes childish finger-pointing that went on over the previous works of Ben Folds Five.
The second track, "Don't Change Your Plans," is an amazing self contradiction in that the song's main character is in love with a woman whom he credits with saving him, but he is unwilling to "move to L.A." to be with her. He says he must be "why my heart says I outta be, it often makes no sense in fact, I never understand these things I feel. . . I love you, goodbye."
"Mess" is probably the best song on the record. He goes over all the things that he did to ruin a past relationship and commits himself to do things differently in his new relationship. This is probably one of the most lyrically strong songs on the record. "There are rooms in this house, that I don't open any more . . . dusty books and pictures on the floor. . ."
"Magic" is striking in its arrangement that smacks slightly of Simon and Garfunkel. "Army" is funny, not in a laughter sense, but in a facetious way.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Goold on December 26, 1999
Format: Audio CD
This, musically and lyrically, is one of the best albums I have had the pleasure of listening to. This is the album that got me hooked on Ben Folds Five.
I think that after the success of "Whatever And Ever, Amen" and with all it's energy, the group decided that it was time to do what they've always wanted to do: create a lush, full, and orchestral album that would make it's listeners feel the raw power and emotion that is Ben Folds Five.
Unlike their last album, which was full of anger, bitterness, and sadness (and much more energy), the boys went a bit more underground and mellow. Despite all of that, they didn't lose their sense of humo(u)r (i.e. "Redneck Past," "Army').
Other gems on the album include Darren Jesse's masterpiece "Magic" and the meloncholy "Don't Change Your Plans."
I loved this album after the first listen and I continue to adore it. Unfortunately, the album hasn't been embraced very well by either the public or hardcore Ben Folds Five fans. It's unfortunate because this isn't just mindless rock. It's real music. These guys have brought back the art of storytelling in music and I hope that they continue to create music worth listening to.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Navin Prasad on October 10, 2001
Format: Audio CD
This is the last work of Ben Folds Five before they broke up, and in my opinion their most mature and cohesive album. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is loosely a concept album, and is one of those discs that you may not like upon the first listen, but that will slowly grow on you until you love it, not because of increasing familiarity, but instead because of the increasing depth that is found from repeated listening.
And upon this first listen, one of your first complaints may be that this doesn't sound like Ben Folds Five. That is true. Where are the tight drum beats and distorted bass? I agree it's unfortunate that the other band members aren't "used" to the extent they were in earlier albums. This album really doesn't sound like older BFF stuff except for "Army," but that doesn't mean it's worse. Ben has expanded the sound by foregoing the usual piano timbre on several songs and instead using a Rhodes piano or a special tack-hammer piano which gives the notes a muffled, percussive sound. This works to awesome effect on "Hospital Song," which was originally several minutes longer and was cut down for some untold reason (I still long for the full version to this day!).
The band has fused even more eclectic styles together and made their music the most progressive it's ever been. The incredible outro of "Regrets," for example, can only have been inspired by the slow groove of Pink Floyd. I also enjoy the jazzy bits in this song and "Your Most Valuable Possession (which is also my least favorite track, though).
I really like the feeling of melancholy that pervades the album. Also of note is that bassist Darren Jessee wrote "Magic," a great song about the death of a loved one.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By B on July 17, 2004
Format: Audio CD
..not an ideal place to start for people who are unfamiliar with their music. Start with either the self titled album, or "Whatever and Ever Amen" - both are equally as accessible.
On "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner", Ben Folds Five shows a vast amount of maturation, both musically (bringing in a multitude of different instruments, and more complex arrangements) and lyrically (the topic of death comes up quite a bit). There are a couple of tracks on here that have that classic, lighthearted BFF feel, but most of it covers new ground. It's kind of a shame that the band split after this (although Ben Folds' solo album, "Rockin the Suburbs", is just as good if not better than this, so it's okay). It is a concept album of sorts, but not nearly as conceptual as something like "The Wall" or "The Final Cut", both by Pink Floyd.
1. Narcolepsy
A BFF classic, right off the bat. It's 5+ minutes, and features a number of different tempo changes. The intro is a long, breathtaking wall of sweeping strings, heavy percussion, and [obviously] piano. The bridge slowly builds up, featuring incredible vocals from Ben..it seems like a perfect ending - but it's not. Another slow building verse in which Ben repeatedly sings "I'm not tired", until the music stops, and a blast of heavily amplified bass hits you like a train for the outro. The soft/loud dynamics are unpredictable, but perfectly timed, and give the song an epic, almost progressive-rock feel.
2. Don't Change Your Plans
And another 5+ minute classic. This one is an absolutely beautiful piece of Burt Bacharach-esque chamber pop, right down to the fluegelhorn laced bridge.
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