Ben Folds Five is the piano-based pop-rock trio out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They became famous in 1997 with the release of the album Whatever and Ever, Amen
and its hit single "Brick." Known in general for silly, whimsical songs (think the Presidents of the USA meets Billy Joel), they had good commercial success with Amen
. However, their tone would go completely somber for their next release, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
. Catchy tunes about not caring about anything gave way to dark pieces dealing with death and wasted lives. The sound also chaged drastically for this album. Bright, raw piano gives way for darker keyboards and many overdubs. For this album, you must forget all you know about previous Ben Folds Five albums. The raw sound of their self-titled album and Whatever and Ever, Amen
gives way to a very different feel on this album here. While some songs are great, there are some honestly disappointing songs on this album. However, for the Ben Folds Five fans out there, this album is still worth picking up for some of the songs on it.
-- This is one of those typical Five songs that starts off quietly and builds steadily. However, the crescendo in this song is much stronger and noticable. It starts with a droning piano bit with higher runs entering, then the drums explode with the fuzzy bass. It takes about a minute and a half for the vocals to start. From there, the song is full of these explosions of sound that wink into Ben playing by himself. Definitely one of the better songs on this album.
Don't Change Your Plans
-- This is a great song, but it definitely marks the departure in this album to a much more produced atmosphere. The simplicity of the song's chord structure makes it a great song, and the piano plays a beautiful triplet part for the chorus. For the bridge, a subdued horn solos. Then, Ben's haunting vocal starts back up again for the next verse. This is another good song for the album.
-- This is a very dark and morose song for a Ben Folds album. The drums keep a constant beat with rimshots during most of the song, and the vocals are uncharacteristically haunting when compared to Ben's usual style of singing. Also, Darren and Robert help with vocals, but they seem much more distant that usual. Still, this is a beautiful song.
-- Again, the Five has a very morose song here. This is mostly Ben and the piano, though percussion appears later on more as a filler effect than a true rhythmic backbone. There are some beautiful string bits, though. Interestingly, it was written by Darren, despite a lack of percussion in most of it.
-- Starting with a repeated arpeggio, this is one of the songs that seems to not go anywhere. Dealing with sickness and death, this is yet again a very sad song. There is a cool piano solo about 1:20 into the song. It could have been much better had there been more real substance to it, but a running time of 2:04 leaves little room for the song to develop.
-- I love this song. If anything on this album sounds like the older Ben Folds Five stuff, this is it. It starts with Ben banging away at his piano like he used to, and heavy drum work fills it out. Also, the harmonies are back in place like they used to be. Plus, there are some cool saxophone parts in there. By the end, Robert's bass helps make the song almost anthemic with its fuzz tones. Great rocker.
Your Redneck Past
-- Until this point, I've been making a lot of nice comments about the album. However, this is where the album starts to disappoint me. This song has a weird keyboard line driving it. It has a lot of potential, but sounds almost too forced to sound like it goes with the lyrics. There is, however, a cool jazzy interlude where the vocals fit tightly with a parallel piano bit. This could have been much better than it is, though.
Your Most Valuable Possession
-- This is a random phone message where an old man rambles about John Glenn and losing muscle mass in space. There is a neat jazz instrumental bit in the background, but it would have worked much better if the music was extended and the phone message dropped.
-- The album takes a better turn here with this song. Again, this is a bit of a deeper song than we're used to, though. What amazes me are the bongos or conga drums following the main rhythm in parts of the song. I do like the chord progression a lot, though. Suddenly, at the end, the song slows into a very powerful climax. For some reason, though, the chior and strings just don't feel like they belong in a Ben Folds song.
-- Here, we are presented with a very easygoing, airy ballad. Again, Ben opts to use an organ instead of his usual piano. Also, the bass is much more subdued than usual, though it remains very effective as a rhythmic device. There are also some ambient noises and computer blips towards the end.
-- This song screams Elton John. It's a great ending to the song, as this is some of the best piano work on the album. It's very straightforward, though the middle and end have some nice stop-start duels between the piano an strings. Great ending to a good album.
There are many points on this album that are good, but the album leaves some disappointing areas where it could obviously have been much better. However, if you're a fan, this album is worth it just for "Army."
(Note: If the formatting is messed up when I first post this, please don't lynch me.
I'll get it correct as soon as possible, but my computer has problems copying and pasting at times).