Published Feb 01, 2000From the opening bars of "Narcolepsy," on Ben Folds Five's third full-length, it's clear that visions of sugarplums are dancing in their heads more than ever before. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner welcomes you with singing violins, heralding the grandness of this new spectacle. Burt Bacharach's world in song is heard throughout, most notably on the suite of songs that closes the album, and arrangements such as the Flügelhorns on "Don't Change Your Plans."
Back home in Chapel Hill, NC, bassist Robert Sledge defends their new pop thesis. "We felt like we deserved a bigger sound to suit the songs - it's always been our goal. We just didn't really have the means to do it before." And means they definitely have. The album was written and recorded in three different studios, pushing the budget well into the six figure range. A marked change to be sure - their last album, 1997'sWhatever and Ever Amen , was recorded in Ben's house.
The band seems comfortable with the big production, finding a home for it in their songcraft, a byproduct of the experience Ben had recording his Fear of Pop side project. "It was my chance to do all the things I've always wanted to do but never had the chance to try, just going in, tinkering around and stuff," the front man explains.
With the exception of the leadoff single "Army," there is a noticeable absence of the hard-edged piano-smashing grooves that define the band's live shows and their last two records. Is this a more subdued Ben Folds Five or a conscious effort to expand the fan base? According to Folds, it's a question of natural flow.
"The first one was very up and down, and this album flows a lot better. I kind of know what you mean though, but part of this album rocks out more than we ever have. You don't have to be loud to rock." Sledge jumps in: "The songs are always heavier live, and that's not going to change."