Ben Folds Five – The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Platters That Matter, Episode 3: Ben Folds Five — The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Banner graphic for the Popdose podcast Platters That Matter, featuring Chris Holmes and Dw. Dunphy.

In an effort to spread the word about our little podcast, we have been letting people know which bands and albums we’d be covering for the next edition at least a month or so ahead of time. And of the three PTMs we’ve done so far, this one seems to have built up the most anticipation. Funny that, since the album that inspired it — The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner — landed with such a resounding commercial thud when Ben Folds Five released it in April 1999. Perhaps luck has it that the album’s ardent supporters, and they are out there, happen to also be Popdose fans.

Ben Folds Five - The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold MessnerThat’s for the best because our intrepid hosts, Chris Holmes and Dw. Dunphy, have plenty to say on the record. They both declare it not only to be their favorite of the Five’s four studio albums, but they even share the same favorite song in common. Small world, this internet place.

In retrospect it’s easy to see why the public didn’t take to Messner the way they did its predecessor, Whatever and Ever Amen. Outside of the bouncy rock single “Army,” there isn’t a whole lot of that trademark Ben Folds cheery punk pop to hang your hat on. There are a few other fun tracks, mind you, but this was the band’s great mature leap forward.

Unfortunately, history tells us that the next leap the trio of Ben Folds, Daren Jessee, and Robert Sledge took was off a cliff. About a year-and-a-half after the album’s release, Ben Folds Five called it quits and it wasn’t until last year that fans finally got to hear what a followup album would sound like. But that’s for another podcast, perhaps several years down the road.

As mentioned in the show, here are some of the songs from the Reinhold Messner sessions that didn’t make the album — “Leather Jacket” and “Birds,” as well as the fantastic “Air.” (These will be taken down at some point.) And here’s the first page of sheet music from Darren Jessee’s “Magic.”

Platters That Matter, Episode 3: Ben Folds Five — The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1:23:49, 76.7 MB)

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  • jamesballenger

    Great album and a great podcast too! I disagree with you about his accent. To me he absolutely sounds like he’s from NC. (I grew up in upstate SC). I wish I could hear “your most valuable possession” without the voicemail part; It ruins the song for me. You are right that this album is pretty dour and Army is the shot in the arm that it needed to avoid being maudlin. But I guess I always felt a sense of them moving from college age punks to adults with a totally new set of hopes and fears. Not this impending doom of the breakup that you sense. Totally my favorite album by them. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Ted

    Well, I’m one who has never heard this album, but I did listen to the podcast. And like your last podcast, you’ve convinced me to give a record I never gave a thought to…a chance. Time to fire up Rdio…

  • Rock_dawg

    Get outta my record collection, guys!
    Another great show, another great album – although I don’t find the second half nearly as strong as the brilliant opening six songs.

  • Chris Holmes


  • quacker

    This album was my favorite BFF album. Thanks so much for going over the album and discussing it with such depth. My favorite song was “Don’t Change Your Plans” because of a personal connection. I also loved the Bacharach break near the end. I would love to hear the original full version before it got condensed into a pop song.

    Regarding your comments on the transition from Hospital Song to Army, Ben talked about this on “Truths and Rumors with Ben Folds Five,” a promotional interview released in 1999 on CD (you might have heard of it judging from your depth of his catalog). Ben said that Army was originally written as the second movement of a suite in which Hospital Song was the first movement. Hospital song used to be a bit longer, but they ended up trimming it, and they even wanted to change the first chord of Army so that it matched the end of Hospital Song, but ended up not doing it. He also noted that “once I got on the hospital kick lyrically…what do you think about when you’re laying in the hospital…well I guess you just think about stuff…what did I think about?…well I remember I was going to join the army to get through school. I told my father that and he told me…”

    Looking forward to the next album discussion!

  • birdsong4j

    Excellent discussion of this album. I was among the BFF fans who loved the first two albums (Whatever & Ever Amen especially), but really f

  • birdsong4j

    …really felt like the band exploded creatively for Reinhold Messner.
    In a way, I felt like I grew up with the band; Whatever & Ever came out when I was an angsty 15-year-old, and so the snark (and bitterness) really resonated with me (and the quality musicianship satisfied the musician in me).

    For Reinhold Messner, I was a sophomore in college, and I felt like BFF’s sound had evolved in a similar way I had. I was in love from the first listen of Narcolepsy.

    Thanks so much for taking on this album. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

  • Allison S

    AH! One of my favorite records of all time, here’s a disclaimer, this is my favorite band, and I have an encyclopedia of knowledge on them all…. you’ve been forewarned.

    Anyone else around here lucky enough to be at the Messner show in 2008? One of the happiest days of my life. Worth the 18 hour drive.

    ALSO if you are more curious about what brought the band to really break up (

    Also – the unnamed man on the front of the record is Dean Folds (Ben Folds’ father…..) Your spreadsheet is a little off on the Folds wives- Yes, Messner was written while marriage two was dissolving (less than a year – not Anna, she’s wife number 1), but, you are also correct, by the release of Messner wife three was married and their children were also born in 1999.

    On the world of Darren Jessee lyricism – the man did put out, in my opinion three phenomenal records, post BF5 breakup (better than the three most recent Folds solo records) as Hotel Lights. Man can write a song. That’s for damn sure. He also wrote Leather Jacket. Robert Sledge wrote Birds. (Who would go on to form International Orange.) Air is also available on the Whatever reissue.

    And yes, Still Fighting It was written basically at the birth of Louis Folds. Away When You Were Here (“Dad, I know you were sad when you died”) off of the newest record comes from the fact that both of Folds’ parents lost their dad when they (Ben’s folks, one of which even committed suicide) were young kids. Ben worries also about not being around with his twins while he’s out on the road. Ben family was all in attendance in 2008 – and I have seen them at other shows across the years when Ben’s playing shows in North Carolina.

    Also, Joe Jackson – far more of an influence, you’re right – on Folds than Joel ever was. Elton oh absolutely, but Billy Joel was a name he kind of fought against for years. Long ago come to terms with it. But. Yes. Joe Jackson. Hell, he’s on Has Been with Shatner.

    Sound Of was on PledgeMusic (which has a charity function) – and came out as record 10 the week it was released. Best release week in Folds’ lifetime.

    It’s always wonderful to hear people love on this band.

  • SashaB

    Enjoyed your podcast on Ben Folds Five. There’s a great mood to this album. Ben Robert and Darren are so good together. Magic was my favorite song too and then I heard Sky High. I finally picked up Darren’s solo work and I’m so surprised he is not better known for his beautiful songs, although he doesn’t seem to make much effort to tour. I love Ben Folds and the Five thanks for reminding me to pull this one back out!