Ben Folds' Musical Irony Supplement
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Ben Folds Five The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner Sony 550
Just what exactly is Ben Folds trying to tell us by naming his band's new CD after the first man to summit Mount Everest without oxygen? Probably not a lot, considering that the irony-abusing pop pianist seems almost clinically unable to write songs without air quotes bracketing them. Still, as much as you want to hate the North Carolina virtuoso's shiny-happy power trio, they manage to get their subversive little meat hooks into you and pummel you into giddy submission.
On Ben Folds' last full-length studio album, 1997's platinum Whatever and Ever Amen, he came off as a slacker knowingly goofing on Elton John's ivory-hammering 1970s theatrics. On Reinhold Messner, Folds mixes baroque pop bonbons ("Don't Change Your Plans") with hummable faux-Broadway anthems ("Army") and knob-twirling experimentation ("Regrets"). The result is as refreshingly out of kilter and as oddly compelling as one of those Mentos commercials. Give him this: Ben Folds has ambitions as lofty as Reinhold Messner himself.
ALBERT MOBILIO is a freelance writer in New York City; ANDREW FERGUSON is senior editor at the Weekly Standard; JAMES PONIEWOZIK writes about media for Salon; CHRIS NASHAWATY and JEFF GORDINIER are, respectively, a staff writer and a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly.